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Aurora Institute

Highlights from the CBE Leadership Forum at iNACOL17

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

At iNACOL17, CompetencyWorks organized a Leadership Forum for people with more than one year experience in implementing competency-based education. We organized conversations so that people would have a opportunity to meet each other, exchange ideas, and look both backward and forward. There is no way to capture the lively conversation of 60+ people talking about a topic they care deeply about. However, I will do my best to give you a flavor of those conversations.

Before I highlight a few of the conversations, I feel it is important to share some feedback for our colleagues who work at the national level and in intermediary/technical assistance organizations. I received multiple requests from district and school leaders that the Leadership Forum next year only include people at the state, district, and school levels, and that people from supporting organizations have their own space to talk. The feedback was consistent and from several different tables: The people from field organizations took up too much air time and often spoke from what they think should be happening rather than what is rooted in experience. This is important information for all of us, including myself.

The field is changing, with much more expertise rooted in the districts and schools than ever before. It is worthwhile for us to take a step back and think about what the implications of these changes mean. We certainly need both types of perspective – those with in-depth knowledge developed from implementation and those with broader perspectives who understand differences in how competency-based education is developing, as well as with expertise around the different topics for which we need to build capacity. We also need to honor that district and school people have few opportunities to meet with their colleagues, whereas people in supporting organizations have lots of opportunities for meetings, given that this is how much of our work gets done.

I don’t know what we will do next year – however, my instinct is to honor the requests of district and school leadership. Perhaps those people who want to attend and are not in those positions can participate as note takers and facilitators so that they have opportunity to listen and learn.

Highlights of Conversations:

As you reflect back on your experience in the implementation of CBE, what were the easiest wins or successes?

  • Getting people to see the value of a CBE system.
  • With a clear mission/vision, the work of defining competencies becomes easier.
  • Building on what is already in place so you don’t try to create something completely new, including finding ways to engage people who are already doing some of the practices and building from there.

What are important lessons learned?

Supporting Teachers

  • Create common language within your district to minimize confusion.
  • Help to build assessment literacy of educators, including how to gather evidence of learning, understanding how students come to their answers (not just whether they got the right answer or not), and providing feedback that is personalized based on student understanding.
  • Keep a strong focus upon formative work and its role in determining proficiency or readiness for a summative assessment to demonstrate proficiency.
  • Ensure consistency between teachers so that there is a shared understanding of what proficiency looks like, such as common assessments and performance assessments.
  • Support the change from teacher readiness and teacher pacing to student readiness and student pacing. This requires course level rubrics/proficiency scales for progress monitoring within the learning and helping students learn to use these tools.
  • Remember that roles and responsibilities are shifting. It can feel like pieces and power are being taken away from teachers. Teachers need to understand that they have even more influence and ability to help students in the new pedagogical roles. It helps for teachers to introduce one practice at a time and reflect upon how it feels, how it changes their understanding of their role, and how to do it effectively.
  • Ensure that teachers become familiar and effective with the workshop model.

Communicating Progress and Changing Grading Practices

  • Changes in how schools report progress need to be the last thing.
  • Design reporting in a way that parents stay bought in to the value of CBE.
  • Changing grading is a huge communications lift and cognitive lift. Understanding the value of new ways of communicating progress requires you to understand the value of CBE. Ask yourself, how does this need to be ‘said’ so that it is ‘heard’?
  • Take the time to build in lots of time and opportunities for conversations. Create a plan. Be transparent on the principles underlying grading policies and make sure all the pieces are in place so it doesn’t become the barrier.
  • Prepare for adjusting the reporting system after the first go-round because it is only after they get the first ‘new’ reports that families will have ability to ask the real questions about CBE.
  • Train students on how the scoring works so they can explain the meaning of a 1, 2, 3, and 4 to their parents.
  • Keep the conversations and work focused upon the vision/mission of competency-based education and learning so that conversations do not veer back to grading.

As we look forward, what are things we need to be considering?

Building Public Will and Understanding

  • Personalization is a better hook than competency-based education.
  • We have to be prepared for state policy to not be sustained and that fidelity to the original concepts will not be maintained.
  • Invest heavily in school board leadership and understanding, as they will be critical for sustaining efforts regardless of state policy shifts.
  • Graduate profiles are important steps in building understanding.

Concerns about Quality

  • We know that in general, state leaders have to “get out of the way.” The “how to” should be left to the districts. However, fidelity of implementation is not consistent. So what is a state to do? There need to be formal supports and mechanisms that catalyze reflection on quality of implementation. There is a need for more tools and resources to support implementation.
  • Accountability can not sit at the 1,000-foot level; it needs to be at the student level. Quality starts by making sure every student is learning, progressing, and has opportunity for deeper learning/applied learning.

Investing in Fully Developing Models

  • Student agency isn’t embedded just in culture, just in structure, or just in pedagogy. It is a fundamental shift throughout the educational experiences, and schools need help in understanding it.
  • With transparent learning continuums, students should be able to learn and demonstrate that they’re learning authentic, real-world experiences. Educators need support in assessing learning done in the real-world. In many cases, the employers or supervisors in a community project will know more about what the student knows and can do than the teachers.
  • Continue to build calibrated continuum of mindset and skills for educators and, more importantly, for the students. If the learner understands the continuum, then student can bring artifacts to demonstrate understanding/learning.

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