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Aurora Institute

Light at the End of the Tunnel

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Lead Change and Innovation, Learn Lessons from the Field

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.26.36 PMAfter finishing a round of site visits in New Hampshire and Colorado I had come to the conclusion that it was the lack of innovation in the private sector that was the biggest barrier to competency education. Everywhere I went, educators complained about their Student Information Systems (SIS) as unable to accommodate personalized learning and pacing.

The best that the SIS vendors (Power School and Infinite Campus were the systems used by the schools I visited) could do was add standards into courses so that teachers could do limited standard-based grading.  However, there was no way to indicate learning gains if students were working on standards before or beyond the course. The most worrisome issue was that it was impossible to generate student learning profiles that showed progress along a learning progression.  The course-based rigidity of the SIS systems required schools to operate two information systems and teachers to enter data twice because of interoperability issues. In one district, the leadership said that the inability of their SIS provider to innovate around personalization had limited full conversion of their high school

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As much as lack of innovation can be a barrier, the reverse is also true. Innovative technology that really understands personalization is going to help us jump into the future.  Seriously, I can barely contain my excitement after seeing Empower, the upgraded version of Educate used by many of the proficiency-based districts around the country.  Empower enables two new capacities that are going to open the door to innovation and zoom in on learning:

1)   Personalized PacingEmpower allows teachers to set pacing expectations over a period of time and a section of learning progressions.  For students at the expected grade level, this might be an academic level over a year or a course over a semester.  For students that are way behind grade level, this might be learning at a rate of 1.25 or 1.5 academic levels per year or working to address gaps such as increasing fluency in multiplying fractions while also working on Algebra 1.  Here is where it gets cool, oh so cool.  Dashboards allow teachers, students and families to see if students are on pace, behind pace, or above pace based on their very own personalized learning trajectory.  Communicating with parents through A-F’s is replaced by discussion about pace because there is confidence that students are becoming proficient. Just think about what this means to managing continuous improvement and ensuring students that are behind grade level are getting the support they need!

2)   Re-engineering Schooling:  Although for difficult reasons, I’ve had the opportunity to see the extraordinary re-engineering the health care industry has done to become more patient-centered.  While my sister was treated for cancer at MD Anderson (she’s won!), I saw up close how a patient-centered information system allowed a crew of health care professionals to respond to new information and organize care on a daily basis.  Empower is going to enable districts and schools to rethink how they deploy educators and other school staff by creating a capacity to manage grouping/regrouping and daily scheduling based on student progress.  Schools will have the opportunity, if they want and when they are ready, to truly jump beyond the time-based course to a world driven by students and their learning.

There was also good news that interoperability issues have been resolved with Infinite Campus and data is synced on a daily basis. Yes, indeed, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Empower is in a beta stage right now and will be rolled out in Lindsay Unified School District this summer. If all goes well it will be brought to market in the fall. You’ll have to stay tuned until then to see its full functionality.