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Aurora Institute

I’m So Excited…and I Just Can’t Hide It

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

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

ExcitementThe competency education strand at the iNACOL Symposium looks excellent! There are sessions on New Hampshire’s efforts to create a balanced system of assessments, how to convert your schools (both elementary and high school) to competency education, how to meet students where they are and address gaps in student’s foundational skills, strategies for prototyping, and how to increase diversity in the field. And let me give a special thanks to Reinventing Schools Coalition and Springpoint Schools for organizing sessions where we get to hear from students and teachers.

Here is a sampling of the sessions related to competency education. And remember—there are two pre-conference workshops on November 8, as well.

November 9

The Art and Science of Teaching in a Competency-Based System:

Rick Schreiber of Reinventing Schools Coalition (now part of Marzano Labs) will walk participants through a series of interactive tasks to identify essential questions that represent a logical planning sequence for successful competency-based instructional design. They will analyze their current instructional units and review them through a competency-based lens. Learn important teacher behaviors for engaging students in owning their learning as well as understanding essential instructional routines that provide clear learning goals and define levels of proficiency.

Being Honest, Getting Serious: Increasing Racial Diversity Among Staff & Boards in the Learning Revolution Movement

John Branam of Learning Accelerator and I will be leading a discussion on the dynamics of the transformation that is happening in American education today. While our nation’s schools are increasingly black and brown, the overwhelming majority of individuals leading the revolution are white. Are you comfortable with this? If not, join us. During this session we’ll share statistics about the diversity of boards and staff from revolution-leading organizations and, more importantly, identify how you can help address this racial imbalance.

Rethinking Assessments to inform Competency-Based and Personalized Education

In Spring 2015, Member States of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium approved a competency education plan. Smarter also delivered standardized assessments to seven million students in eighteen states during that time. Brandt Redd, CIO of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, will lead an experience with sample assessments, interpretations of sample reports, and an overall vision of how standardized assessments can contribute important insights to their competency-based and personalized learning efforts.

Talk Less, Do More: How Prototyping Can Lead to Successful Competency-Based Implementation

Colleen Broderick of the Donnell-Kay Foundation will share learnings on the power of engaging users to explore a variety of assumptions and unveil solutions where research and replication falls short. This session outlines their competency framework and engages participants as a potential user through a variety of rapid prototypes designed to test ideas and provide fodder to successfully assess the viability of strategies before fully implementing a competency-based model. [See Thinking Way, Way, Way Out of the Box at the Donnell-Kay Foundation.]

November 10

Students Tell the Story about their Competency-Based School

Rick Schreiber will facilitate a panel of experts….students from a Reinventing Schools Coalition supported school will be leading this panel discussion. Ask your questions to the students to better understand what it is like to go to a comptency-based school. The students will explain how they own their learning and understand what they need to do to progress toward graduation. They will share examples of how they have a voice and choice in their learning and associated environment.

Mastery Models in New York City

Jeremy Kraushar and Joy Nolan of of NYC Department of Education will showcase how NYC is home to a diverse, thriving community of mastery-based learning environments (several NYC schools were recently featured in a rich series on This session offers hands-on exploration of mastery systems in some of our middle/high schools. We invite you to connect presented ideas/resources to your own mastery/competency practices, and share out jigsaw style. The session will be of interest to those at all levels of familiarity with competency/mastery-based education. Be sure to read up on the Magical Mastery Tour to prepare.

Lessons from New Competency-Based High Schools: Leaders Reflect on Design and Launch

Elina Alayeva and Anna Hall from Springpoint Schools will facilitate this interactive panel with first and second-year principals imparting valuable lessons about the design and launch of new competency-based public high schools. Each of these principals has opened a new high school in a district or network setting with support from Springpoint, a national organization that helps launch competency-based, tech-enabled school models. Principals will address the decision points of implementing their programs and share strategies with aspiring practitioners.

Leading Your School Through the Transition From Traditional to Competency Education

Brian Stack, Principal of Sanborn Regional High School, and Jonathon Vander Els, Principal or Memorial Elementary School in Sanborn, will provide participants with the opportunity to interact with three of the NH PACE district principals about their journey from a traditional educational system seven years ago to a nationally recognized competency-based system. Participants will delve into change management in a school, needed foundational structures to begin this work (PLC), grading practices that support this transition, how to best assess competency in students, and supporting teachers throughout the process. Both are frequent writers on CompetencyWorks, so you might want to read up before you go to the session. [Access a complete list of Stack’s posts here and Vander Els’ here.]

Supporting Personalized Learning within a Collaborative Environment

Adrianne Level from Boston Day and Evening Academy will offer participants resources to meet students “where they are” in their learning, provide different access points to content, and foster an effective, collaborative learning environment while students work at individual paces. This session will provide tools necessary to understand the components of a competency-based system. Participants will discuss classroom dilemmas and examine BDEA’s practices while engaging in a combination of whole and small group discussions. [See the series on Boston Day and Evening Academy starting with Reading the Pulse of Students at Boston Day and Evening Academy.]

Helping Students Achieve THEIR Math Goals: New Models in Montana and South Carolina

Terri Rowenhorst will address a concern that we all share—lack of Math proficiency causes many systemic academic problems for students who develop gaps in their conceptual understanding of the subject. New technologies, like the EdReady tool from the nonprofit NROC Project, can help schools offer individualized assessment and curriculum delivery for math proficiency. Hear about early experiences from programs adapting the tool for a variety of use cases. We’ll discuss lessons learned in helping students achieve their math goals at their own pace.

First-Hand Accounts: Students and Teachers Share Their Experiences in New, Competency-Based High Schools

Elina Alayeva and Anna Hall from Springpoint Schools will facilitate a conversation with students and teachers from new, competency-based public high schools as they reflect on their experience in innovative, personalized school models. Participants will hear students’ perspectives on being part of these new schools and will engage with teachers as they share how their teaching practice has shifted in a competency-based, tech-enabled model.

November 11

Policy, Pillars, and Practice: New Hampshire’s New Accountability 2.0 System

Rose Colby and Ellen Hume-Howard of Sanborn Regional School District will introduce you to New Hamphire’s new accountability system: Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE). NH is a pioneering state for new federal accountability, having received approval for PACE in early 2015. This session is divided into three sections: Policy, Pillars, and Practice. The session is designed for participants to understand the foundational elements of determining annual proficiency based on multiple measures of learning.