A Northeast Region View of Competency-Based Learning: Definitions, Policies, and Implementation


PETER ORNE: Thank you joining us
today at REL Northeast & Islands for “A Northeast Region View of
Competency-Based Learning Definitions, Policies, and Implementation,”
hosted by the Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance. So at this time, I
would like to introduce Jessica Brett, who’s the
facilitator for the NCCRA, who will be moderating today’s webinar. So good afternoon Jessica,
and have a great session. JESSICA BRETT: Thank
you, Peter, and thank you, everyone, for joining
us today for our webinar on competency-based learning. It’s great to have so many joining
us today from, as Peter mentioned, from around the region as well
as throughout the country. And it’s great to have so many
different roles represented. It looks like we have
teachers, district staff, researchers, SEA staff, and higher ed. So it’s great to have
you all with us today. As Peter mentioned, my
name is Jessica Brett, and I serve as the
facilitator for the Northeast College and Career Readiness Research
Alliance, the host of today’s webinar. I’m joined today by Josh Cox who serves
as the researcher for the alliance. Our program today will include two
presentations on competency-based learning– a research presentation by
Aubrey Sheopner Torres, a consultant with REL Northeast & Islands, and a case
study from the state of New Hampshire presented by Paul Leather,
Deputy Commissioner of Education at the New Hampshire
Department of Education. Following each presentation,
there will be an opportunity for a brief question and answer period. Please feel free to post
your questions in the chat, and we’ll pose them to the
presenters during the Q&A. Following the two presentations,
we will have a reflection by Julia Freeland, a
senior research fellow from the Clayton Christensen
Institute who works in the field of competency-based learning. After all our speakers, we’ll have
a collaborative discussion with all our presenters based on your questions. We’d like to take a
minute to get a sense of the familiarity of our
audience with some of the topics we’ll be discussing today.
We have three polls. So if you could please take a minute. They’ll each be coming up one at a
time, just so we get a sense of what everybody knows about
competency-based learning and New Hampshire’s PACE program. And it’s great to see. It looks like people are either
very or somewhat familiar, mostly familiar with CBL, which is great. I know there’s always
a lot more to learn. So I hope we’ll be able to teach you
and learn a lot more about that today. So I think we’re just about
ready to go on to the next poll. So we know there’s a
lot of variety out there in terms of a lot of school districts
are considering implementing CBL and some are just starting. So just trying to get a sense of
who we have on the webinar today. It looks like right
now we’re about evenly split between those who have
implemented or considering implementing, which is great. We’ll really touch on a lot of issues
at both ends and that cover both ends. And so I think we will
cover a lot of that today. Another five seconds on this one, and I
think we’ll switch onto the next poll. I think we’re ready for
our last poll, which is about New Hampshire’s
PACE program, which we’ll be hearing more about today. It’s great that we have Paul Leather
who’s sort of the pioneer behind this. So it’s a great
opportunity to hear a lot about this program which I
think is a great thing coming out of New Hampshire. And a lot of familiar, and it looks
like he’ll have a lot to talk about. And we’ll really be able
to share a lot with you. And those of you who are
not familiar with it, he’s definitely the
person to learn it from. So it’s a great opportunity.
Glad you’re here today to join us. So I think we’ll move
back to the slides. Thank you all for filling out the polls. And I’d like to just take a minute to
go over the goals for today’s webinar, which are to disseminate the study
findings and implications of REL Northeast & Islands publication
titled “Compentency-Based Learning– Definitions, Policies, and Factors
Related to Implementation.” We also want to discuss
the implementation of the competency-based learning
reform by looking at a pilot program in New Hampshire, Performance
Assessment of Competency Education, also know as PACE. Lastly, through both
presentations on our discussion, we’ll discuss facilitators and
challenges raised by these studies. Now I’d like to introduce
today’s presenters. Our first presenter is Dr. Aubrey
Sheopner Torres, an assistant professor in the education department
at Saint Anselm College, and who also served as a research
consultant for REL Northeast & Islands. Prior to her work at Saint Anselm’s,
she was a senior research associate at Education Development
Center where she served as the principal
investigator on several studies for REL Northeast &
Islands and conducted large-scale program evaluations for
the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Many of these research
studies were focused on competency-based and student-centered
learning education reforms. Our second presenter is Paul Leather,
whose background and experience in education, counseling, and
administration in New Hampshire spans three decades. He’s the Deputy Commissioner
of the Department of Education in New Hampshire, and has
also served for 18 years as the director of the Division
of Career, Technology, and Adult Learning for the department,
overseeing statewide initiatives such as high school redesign, extended
learning opportunities, and dropout prevention, as well
as the administration of vocational rehabilitation,
adult education, career and technical
education, tech prep, and school guidance and counseling. In 1997, as part of the New
Hampshire school to career efforts, Mr. Leather began the
journey to create a state model for competency-based
student transcript. This effort resulted in the development
and implementation of a New Hampshire competency-based assessment system, and
ultimately to the student mastery model now in place as part of New
Hampshire school approval standards. More recently, he’s led the
development of a first in the nation next generation educational
accountability model called Performance Assessment of Competency Education,
or PACE, approved as a pilot program with four New Hampshire
districts in March 2015. Our discussion today is Julia
Freeland, a senior research fellow with the Clayton Christensen Institute. Her research there focuses on
innovative policies and practices in K through 12 education. She currently writes a weekly blog and
examines competency-based education policies, blended learning
school models, and initiatives to increase student social capital. She’s authored several reports
on competency-based learning and blended learning. I want to thank all our
presenters for joining us today. And please remember to post
your questions in the chat during the presentation, and
we’ll address them during the Q&A section of the Bridge Event. I’ll now turn it over to Aubrey
for our first presentation. AUBREY SHEOPNER TORRES: Great.
Thanks, Jessica. It’s a pleasure to be here, and
thanks so much everyone for joining. And hopefully this presentation gives
you a good overview of the study. In this presentation,
I’ll briefly discuss why we conducted the study, the
research questions that guided our work, and the research methods. If you would like more information
about the background and the research methods, there’s a
copy of the report down below in the download today’s files. Or just feel free to ask. I’d like to spend most of the
presentation going over the findings and reviewing what we found in
particular about the four main elements of competency-based learning,
and the needed supports to help with implementation efforts. Jessica, Josh, and I were on the
research team for this project. So if you do have a question at any
time, we’re in this unique position that they can help in
answering them right away. Or you can ask them at
any time, and we can address them after the presentation. This project was also done
in very close collaboration with members of the Northeast College
and Career Readiness Research Alliance. And I see a couple of them are here. They were extremely helpful
in guiding the project and providing feedback throughout. We work closely with members– this
includes Paul Leather– to identify research projects and ways to
support the work of our member states as they assess and enhance secondary
school initiatives designed to increase college and career readiness. Members of the alliance very quickly
identified competency-based learning as an area where further research was
needed to help support state efforts. So what the heck are
we talking about here? So competency-based
learning, which is sometimes known as competency education,
proficiency-based learning, or mastery-based learning–
among many other terms– is an education reform where
students must demonstrate mastery of a defined set of competencies
to advance and graduate rather than completing
traditional credit requirements that are based
on time spent in class, which is commonly known as seat time. So in a traditional model, as
long as you show up to class and you manage a minimum
average, you can earn credit, even if you do not understand
all the concepts and skills that were taught in the class. In a competency-based model,
if the concept or skill is one of the competencies for the course
or is a graduation requirement, then you cannot get credit or
graduate until you’ve demonstrated mastery of each of those competencies. So that in a nutshell is
a very brief definition. Competency-based learning is pretty
widespread in the Northeast and Islands region. You can see here the
history of legislation and Board of Education
policy that has been passed. It started in Rhode Island, and their
revision to their diploma requirements. And then was quickly followed by
New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, and most recently, Vermont. Massachusetts has no policy,
but the Department of Education has provided professional
development sessions and they do support the movement. New York has no policy
to support this either. They’ve really been focused on
the Common Core implementation. But they see this as something
that they might move to next. So one of the first issues that
alliance members identified was that each state had
different policies and even different terms that were being used. They wanted to work together
and learn from one another, but they really wondered are we
even talking about the same thing? So we set out on a research project
to look into how the reform was being defined in policy and practice. Our study was guided by
three research questions. How was competency-based
learning defined in state- and district-level
policies in the region? How was competency defined at
the state and district level? What are the requirements
for attaining competency that lead to credit toward graduation? What are the perceived barriers
and facilitators for implementation at the district and state level? So really, our goal was to
explore policies and practices to see how this reform
was being defined, and what were some of the challenges
in implementing the reform? So the first thing we
did was we conducted a review of state-level policy in
all seven states in the region. And then we worked very closely with our
alliance members to identify the states where we should conduct interviews. We knew we could focus on just
three states in the region. If we could conduct interviews
there, we could get a sense of how it’s being defined in practice. So members helped us select Maine,
Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. And we chose those states
because they really represented the range of state-level policy in the
region based on that seven-state review that we had done. So in Maine, competency-based
learning was required, but districts could define the reform. Rhode Island districts
must implement reform, but the state had some requirements
that districts had to meet when implementing competency-based learning. As I said, Massachusetts
had no requirement, but districts could implement this. And they could define
it how they wanted. Selecting just three
states, as you can imagine, was very tough, because
other states in the region were doing interesting things as well. In particular, New Hampshire
has been doing a lot with competency-based
learning for quite some time, as you’ll soon hear about from Paul. And talking with our
alliance members, we decided that our next study–
which we’re working on now– would focus on New Hampshire. It’s a much deeper dive into what
competency-based learning looks like. So once we selected the states, we then
selected and interviewed administrators at the state level in each of the
three states, along with administrators at the district and
sometimes the school level. Sometimes it made more
sense to interview someone at a school rather than a district. We conducted a total of 20 interviews
across Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, including six interviews
with state-level administrators, 11 interviews with
district-level administrators, and three interviews with
school-level administrators. You can see here there’s
two that we conducted policy reviews for all 14 districts and
schools that were included in the study as well. So in terms of findings– from the
review of the state-level policies, we found that five out of the
seven states in the region had state legislation in place either
mandating or allowing districts to implement competency-based learning. And we talked a little bit about this. In Maine, New Hampshire,
and Rhode Island, districts were required to
implement competency-based learning. In Rhode Island, it’s
been mandatory since 2003. In New Hampshire, all districts must
implement competency-based learning K through 12 by 2017. And in Maine, districts must
implement competency-based learning by 2018 or 2020 if the district
applies for an extension. In Connecticut and Vermont,
legislation was recently passed that supports
competency-based learning but does not require
districts to adopt the reform. And Massachusetts, as I said earlier,
there is no policy that mandates this, but there’s also nothing that restricts
districts from implementing the reform. In most states, aside from Rhode
Island, it’s really up to the districts to define and implement competency-based
learning as they deem fit. And you can see here too the different
terms that are used across the states as I alluded to earlier. From standards-based diploma in
Maine, to proficiency-based learning in Rhode Island, Vermont,
and Massachusetts, mastery-based learning in
Connecticut, and competency-based learning in New Hampshire. And part of the reason
for the different terms is the history of policy
in each of these states. So for example, in Connecticut,
there was a previous ed reform movement where proficiency
defined the lowest bar that students had to meet to pass. They didn’t want the two reforms
to be confused with one another. In terms of how competency-based
learning was defined, we found four common elements. What was interesting was that
across the policies in interviews, there was often a common
language about these elements, but there was a broad range in
terms of how these elements were being defined and practiced,
a broad range of approaches to each of these elements. One common element
was that students must demonstrate mastery of
all required competencies to earn credit or graduate. Implicit in this is the need to
establish assessment and grading policies that measure student progress
toward mastery in each of those competencies. In practice, there was a variety of
ways in which competencies were defined, and different approaches
to assessment and grading. So for example, competencies were not
always limited to academic content. Some also included separate
competencies related to learning skills, such as taking responsibility for
your own learning, persistence, and other non-academic factors,
quote unquote, that we’ve heard so much about related to learning. Some had school-wide competencies. Others have competencies
specific to courses. Some had both. Administrators reported that ensuring
that students demonstrate mastery of all required competencies often
necessitated changes to assessment and grading practices
so that all assessments and grades were really a
true measure of student progression toward a competency. So in some cases, this really meant
ending practices that gave students credit or extra credit
for things like neatness and turning in assignments on time–
things that might be important, but not necessarily a measure of whether
students had mastered a competency. Really being very targeted
with each of your assessments to be sure it was measuring
what it ought to measure was something that a lot of
districts talked about having to change in terms of their practice. Grading practices really
varied across the districts, and many were still
trying to figure this out. Several had adopted or were
in the process of implementing standards-based grading
at the high school level because they felt that better matched
the competency-based approach. Another common element
was that students advance once they’ve demonstrate mastery. And students can receive more time
and possibly personalized instruction to demonstrate mastery if needed. So in practice, student advancement
based on demonstrating mastery sometimes meant that students
could start the next lesson or next unit within a class. Other times, students
were placed in classes based on their level
of understanding rather than their, quote unquote, grade level. So in two sites, a student could
be in a ninth grade English class for example and an
eleventh grade math class. So there was really a
range of practices there. In order to allow students to
move through the curriculum at their own pace, several districts
made changes to their schedules. So for example, one school
moved to a 12-week term so that students could move more
quickly through the material if needed, or they could repeat classes if needed. Another district instituted what
they called intensive weeks where the traditional schedule was
replaced for one week in the fall and one week in the spring
so that students who were proficient in all
of their competencies could engage in enrichment
intensive mini courses. And students who were not
proficient had an additional week with extra staff support to
help get them toward mastery. In addition, a lot of districts were
really relying on online courses to help provide students
with additional enrichment and additional support opportunities. So a third common element was
that students are assessed using multiple measures to determine mastery. And usually these assessments
require that students apply their knowledge, not just repeat facts. Districts and schools that
participated in this study reported a variety of
assessment strategies that students could use
to demonstrate mastery, including comprehensive course
assessment, common tasks in each class, and performance tasks such as graduation
portfolios and internship projects. The vast majority of schools
and districts in the study were using some form of
performance-based assessment as one of the multiple measures
for determining student mastery. Some administrators
reported that students were required to have
multiple assessments of mastery for each competency. In other districts or
schools, students could choose among different types of assessment. The role of standardized tests
and graduation requirements was really mixed and somewhat
contentious across the states. And it was something that many
states were still grappling with. So just two examples here. In Rhode Island, districts are required
to move to competency-based learning. And the state also
requires students to pass the standardized testing requirement. They have to meet a minimum score. Given that there are strict
frames when students are allowed to take the standardized
exam, some really believe that this was antithetical
to a competency approach where students are assessed
when they’re ready. In New Hampshire, they’re piloting
local teacher-created performance-based assessments and recently
received permission from the US Department
of Education to have these count toward their
statewide accountability and have students take the standardized
tests a minimum of three times throughout their K-12 schooling career. This is the PACE program that Paul is
going to speak about in much greater detail about in just a few minutes. But it really helps demonstrate the
range of how states were dealing with this issue of standardized tests. And I think New Hampshire stands
out because they’re the first ones to move in this direction. So a final common
element was that students can earn credits toward graduation
in ways other than seat time, in ways other than being in a
traditional brick and mortar classroom. So this included apprenticeships,
blended learning, dual enrollment, career and technical education programs,
and other learning opportunities outside the traditional
classroom setting. Administrators reported that
having such learning opportunities available to students required having
multiple pathways toward graduation and varied options for demonstrating
mastery of competencies while maintaining the same expectations
and rigor across these learning experiences. And that was something
that they said was a real challenge and
something that they were still grappling with or struggling with. In practice, state and
district administrators said that moving away from seat
time and credit requirements to multiple pathways toward
graduation was really the goal. But interestingly, 11
out of the 14 sites that were implementing
competency-based learning in our study, they were also using credits
as graduation requirements. So even though their state
policies didn’t really stipulate their credit requirements. So this really indicates that moving
away from a credit-based system is very difficult. So in addition to looking at
how this was being defined, we also asked administrators what
were some of the complications in implementing the reform? Where was additional support needed? So administrators discussed the
need to very clearly communicate what the reform is and how it works. Not only to the school community,
including students, their families, teachers, local businesses,
but also to wider audiences, including higher education. This reform can have huge
implications for college applications. And this was often were
districts and schools faced the largest resistance, students
and families who were concerned about post-secondary implications. So for example, how would
a competency-based report card be received in the
college admissions process and in granting scholarships? Sate administrators said that they
also had to clearly communicate to districts one, that they
actually can move to this model, especially in states where it’s
not a requirement, and two, how they can implement
competency-based learning. Several state administrators noted
that it is not enough for states to allow districts and
schools the flexibility to implement this type of reform. Even when districts or schools do
adopt competency-based learning, they don’t always take advantage of
the flexibility the reform can offer. As my previous example demonstrates,
many sites in the study were still using credit requirements
to determine graduation eligibility, even though they didn’t have to. So a push they said is really
needed from school leaders, either by the state, the school
board, district, or school leadership to really initiate the move to
a competency-based approach. Another need that was
mentioned frequently was ongoing support for teachers,
including professional development and time for collaboration. Where you have students
moving at their own pace or when they’ve
demonstrated mastery, you need a curriculum that is not
only focused on the competencies, but is really designed
to allow students to move through the material at their own pace. You also need high quality
assessments that help determine when students have mastered the material. Most of the administrators
we interviewed said that critical to
implementation of this reform were teacher leadership teams, and
really allocating time for teachers to collaborate so that they could
develop clarity about the competencies, shared expectations, and
then align the curriculum and assessment to those competencies. And this took a tremendous
amount of time and dedication. Teachers may also need
professional development on new assessments and new
instructional practices so that they have the
tools needed to meet the learning needs of their students
in a competency-based approach. Related, administrators discussed
this real need for a culture shift among students, so that students
are really taking ownership of their own academic success. And this is something that might not
always happen in a traditional system. And it’s certainly a
very different approach than students might be used to. So teachers need tools
to motivate students, and that might be another area
for professional development. Finally, there was also talk
of need for more research and models to help guide
districts in their implementation and ongoing efforts. Research that provides detailed
accounts of assessment and curricular structures, scheduling, and other policy
changes, and communication efforts is needed to provide valuable resources
for districts as they seek to implement a competency-based approach. Learning from others
they reported was key, especially in such a complex reform. Administrators also identified
the need for empirical research on the outcomes of a
competency-based learning, most notably student learning outcomes. They said that this could
go a long way in helping build support for the reform. So that very quickly is some of
the major findings of this study. As I said, further information
about the study is in the report that you can access below. Thanks again so much for inviting me. This was really a fun
project to work on. We learned a lot. And I hope this presentation
was helpful to you as well. JESSICA BRETT: Thank you Aubrey. It’s really great to hear about
everything, a great overview of what’s going on in the region and to get
a sense of how states in the region are defining this and what’s
playing out in different districts. You’ve definitely garnered
some questions on this site. I think there’s a lot of
questions around this area, so I’m just going to
start with one topic that we haven’t discussed a lot which
talks about a question about educator evaluations. And the question is,
how do these districts use competency-based learning
and assessment to measure growth for inclusion in educator evaluations? And it sort of asked a little bit
more, with everything else on teachers’ plates, how are they finding time? Do you have anything about standardized
assessments and evaluations? I don’t know if there’s
anything that you found that you could address about that. AUBREY SHEOPNER TORRES:
I’m trying to think. It didn’t come up
necessarily in this study. It’s a question that we’ve
asked in our next case study project is we know the competency-based
learning is coming down the pike at the same time as Common
Core, and teacher evaluation systems, and changes in the standardized exam. So that’s something that’s actually
a research question for our study that we’re working on now, in part
because, when we did this study, we heard a lot from
administrators who said, we’re trying to do this
all at the same time. And one of the things
administrators talked about doing was really trying to streamline them
and see where there was overlap. They didn’t talk in particular
about teacher evaluation systems and how that was working. I think in part because they were
still trying to figure that out. But certainly, the Common
Core, they were able to wrap that into their competencies. And I think as they were
developing their competencies and as they were developing
assessments, there was a real push from the
administrators that we talked to to try and streamline
this into other education initiatives that were coming at them. Again, time, every ed reform needs
time, but that was one of the things that they said was helpful too
was having enough time to really think through where the overlap was. Not sure if that directly
answers the question. Hopefully it gives some insight. JESSICA BRETT: Thanks Aubrey. I think as you mentioned,
there are a lot of reforms. And as people have
mentioned in the chat, it needs not only time but
having a support system in place to work with these new initiatives
I think is also important. Just switching gears a little
bit to another question that came up about how this system
affects students with disabilities. And I guess I wonder in terms of the
equity issue around this initiative and if there was anything
you found about not only students with disabilities,
but other struggling students that you could talk about. AUBREY SHEOPNER TORRES: Yeah,
and I know Jobs for the Future has a report out that
looks directly at this. I’ll see if I can find a link
to it and post that in there. But that’s a real
question I think is how do we really ensure that this reform
is doing what it’s intended to do? Most of the administrators
we talked to said that one of the main
reasons they were doing this was because they could
see that students were really still slipping through the
cracks, despite their best efforts. So if you could move to a model where
you’re really focused on where students are and giving them the flexibility
of time to master those competencies, those key skills, that key content, then
maybe we could meet their needs better. And so that was really, we didn’t delve
in too much in terms of how that was happening because it wasn’t one of the
main research questions for this study, unfortunately. Again, it was one that
came up and we’re like oh, we should put that in our next study. So that’s definitely something
that we’re looking to. But that Jobs for the Future
study did a really nice job– oh, and I think Josh already posted it– did
a really nice job talking about that. And I know they addressed it head on. So I would definitely
check that out and say that it was a key motivator
for districts and schools in implementing this reform was to try
and meet the needs of their students with special needs. A lot of them were trying to meet
the needs of English language learners and new American students. If you could allow them
more time, giving them time to really master the
language would be helpful was what we heard from a couple
of administrators as well. JESSICA BRETT: Thanks. And we have sort of a follow up question
about the equity issue is related to, are there other elements of CBE that
you found in the site that are creating problems or new problems for
serving underserved students that maybe haven’t been– new issues that
are arising with this new initiative. AUBREY SHEOPNER TORRES: I think
the motivation piece is key. Teachers were struggling with,
this is a whole new model. And so you’re dealing with students who
are used to one way of doing school. And students are really, really
good at gaming the system and finding the holes. What they really needed were
new motivation strategies. You can’t be marking students
for example off if they’re late. Well then, how do you make
sure that they’re on time? And part of that is making sure
that the learning that they’re doing is really engaging. And that was certainly
one way that districts were trying to motivate students. But they felt like
they needed more tools. So I think that was something that
kind of caught them a little off guard. And something that they
could see is a real need was finding different ways to motivate
students in this approach, especially those students who are struggling. It might be difficult. If
it was difficult to motivate them already, then how do you get
them on board with this new approach? But there’s certainly a lot
of success stories out there of districts that have
been able to do this. So it’s really an issue of trying
to learn from one another I think. JESSICA BRETT: Thanks Aubrey. I’m going to follow up with one question
that we received upon registration. I think we have time for probably
one or two more questions, and then there will be some time again
at the end to ask some questions. And they asked about something. It says can mastery-based
education also address facilitating the learning of
soft skills such as perseverance, communication, teamwork, et cetera? I know you were just addressing
that in terms of students showing up or doing their homework. Can you talk a little
bit more about anything that was talked about when you spoke
to districts about those soft skills? AUBREY SHEOPNER TORRES:
Yeah, definitely. Those were often those school-wide
competencies that were being implemented at a lot of the district. So as we talked about, you had
very different competencies. Some were really focused on academics. Some were tied to the course. Some were school wide. Some districts had both course-tied
or course-specific competencies, some had school-wide
competencies in addition. That’s where we really saw those
quote unquote soft skills that were coming through. And grading was kind
of an issue there too because if you were
grading it across classes, you were really having to get
teachers to coordinate their efforts. And how we’ve got to give
one grade for communication. We’ve got to give one grade for
attendance and participation. So administrators
thought it was a neat way to collaborate among teachers in ways
that they hadn’t collaborated before. But then you also had to create
structures so that they could do that. And where it was a
school-wide competency, you could have each teacher really
hammering home the same message. Administrators found
that really powerful. It was also key though to make
sure that you had a lot of clarity around what those soft skills meant
and what were some of the indicators that students had
mastered that soft skill? So there was a lot of background
discussion among teachers and staff to really figure out what soft skills
were important, what they look like, how do we assess them, and how do
we promote them among students? And in a lot of cases,
how do we teach them? I think those were some of
the main issues that came up when we were talking about them. JESSICA BRETT: Thank you. Yeah, I think a lot of great answers. And I think the study definitely
raised a lot of questions. But I want to thank you
very much for sharing your initial findings with us today. And as Aubrey mentioned, the
report is available for download. And you can see in
Download Today’s Files. And Aubrey will be available
for questions at the end. So thank you, Aubrey. And we’re going to move on to our
second keynote presentation today which is Paul Leather, who is the Deputy
Commissioner from the New Hampshire Department of Education
who will be talking about a specific implementation in
New Hampshire about the PACE program. So Paul, I’m going to
turn it over to you. PAUL LEATHER: Thank you, Jessica. Good afternoon, everybody. I’m going to get right to it and
share our pilot, the New Hampshire PACE or Performance Assessment
of Competency Education with you all in the next few minutes. Know that there isn’t time to share
all the history of competency education in New Hampshire, but I do
want to share some thoughts as to where we are today that
underpin our New Hampshire PACE pilot. Here’s a big picture look if you will
at how we think about competencies in New Hampshire, put together
by our eminent competency consultant, Rose Colby. When we think of a system
of competency education, we think of competencies
that are tied to standards and expressing a continuum of
learning mapped developmentally across K through 12, and in some cases,
onto higher education and beyond. The expectation that students are
deeply engaged in project-based learning where formative assessments
are ongoing and lead to summative performance assessments. They were aimed at
higher depth of knowledge so that students can actually use
knowledge strategically and in solving problems and understanding the world. Let students personalize
plans and systemic supports to address where he or she
is in their developmental trajectory of learning. And that there is personalization
of curriculum through projects and learning studios in order
to give students an opportunity to deeply engage in their work. And all of this
supported by a new system of grading based on a deeper
understanding on the part of teachers and learning communities of the purposes
of formative and summative assessments, where competence is commonly
and consistently understood, and also where students
are afforded opportunities to reach competence if they do not
make it perhaps in the first time. This supports New
Hampshire’s theory of action which is consistent with what Gene
Wilhoit and Linda Darling-Hammond, and Linda Pittenger of the Center
for Innovation and Education wrote in what’s referred to as
the 51st state paper, where we see a system of personalized learning
that was developed if you will, to have clear and high
expectations delivered through a competency-based
course of study that is built around customized pathways
designed to adapt to a student’s learning where we have developed
comprehensive systems of support and schools and districts
for all students. And we have truly built out anytime,
anywhere learning in our communities, and established an unrelenting focus on
student agency to define the process, all aimed at college and career
success after graduation. And thinking about accountability with
this kind of teaching and learning system, we needed to move well beyond
the structures we are all perhaps too familiar with under No
Child Left Behind as well as the Race to the Top
college and career readiness focus of the last several years, and
the first round of the state waivers and then the state waiver renewals. We really needed to look to
a new kind of accountability which we’re calling Accountability
3.0, which looks at a much wider array of measures to help us get a deeper
understanding of college and career success, one that supports shifts in
teaching and learning to a system that is more personalized, competency
and project based, and one that more directly balances formative
and summative assessments around a student-centered
approach as opposed to a top-down, standards-driven system. And the 51st state paper that I referred
to earlier, Linda, Gene, and Linda talk about a continuous
improvement and innovation model that focuses on richer, deeper
learning, which requires a very substantial emphasis on the
development of professional capacity to support this learning, and
the need of course for resources and really a sense of
co-responsibility around the delivery and availability of resources
at every level of the system. Here is a picture of the 51st state
accountability system where both locally derived assessments– in New
Hampshire, that is local performance assessments– and other assessments
that are used to determine student mastery competencies are
combined with state-level checks and grades spans. In New Hampshire, we use the
Smarter Balanced Assessment for those state-level
checks, and further checked through both paper and on-site
quality reviews by peers and experts to ensure reliability and
validity in the system. New Hampshire based its PACE system
on all of this national thinking, and then we took it one step further. We believe that one of the core problems
in current accountability systems is that the external nature of the
top-down standards state assessments approach essentially
disempowers local educators from the design and measurement
of their own system of education. We think that by giving back
some of that authority for design and measurement, that we are
creating a co-responsibility system that has the potential for
taking us much further over time. The thinking is really based on
some of Dick Elmore’s thinking about reciprocality
connected to his construct, the Instructional Core and the
notion of accountability altogether. If I expect performance
from you, I must provide you with the opportunity to meet the mark. And if both you and I invest in
both student and educators’ skill and knowledge, then both
students and educators will have a reciprocal responsibility
to demonstrate their learning and deeper learning over time. In tune with this, we’ve
envisioned a system where local educators designed
their theory of action around teaching and learning. They tell us how they intend
to assess that learning and how they will hold
themselves accountable. And we at the state level then
will check and verify this system. And we’ll also be involved in
comprehensive support systems to both improve and transform
the system over time. Here are the partners of the
New Hampshire PACE pilot. We all sit around a common PACE policy
table at least once a month, and so far by doing this, we have
been able to construct the system together going forward. As of last week, this
slide needs to be updated. The districts in the lighter
shades have now fully joined us. We’ve had a three-day New
Hampshire PACE summer summit and need now to be recognizing
that all of the members are fully and equally at the table. I also thought it might be
instructive to share with you a little of the timeline for approval
of the New Hampshire PACE pilot with the US Department of Education. We first met with the Secretary in 2012. After that meeting, we
realized we were not actually ready to implement a wholly new system. We had not constructed the
elements of the system, nor had we prepared our partners at the
local, state, or the national level. A full two years later, we did
finally meet again with the Secretary where he gave us the verbal
go ahead to move forward with a pilot with close guidance
by then Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle and her staff. On March 3 of this year, we
received our official approval. We were able to do this, however,
because after that first meeting several years ago, we
constructed our system, provided deep professional learning
opportunities for our educators, and we designed and actually began
to implement the new system even before we received the final approval. The final approval
really just allowed us to move beyond the
annual state assessments to grade span state assessments. And our hardy band of the initial
four implementing districts were hellbent to make this happen
whether we were approved or not. Please note that this may sound
like a smooth and easy process, but know that it wasn’t. Even today it does feel a
little like Sisyphus pushing the boulder back up the mountain. All along the way we had local
folks on our team with us, as well as key national
supporters as well. And even then, in our September
2014 meeting with the Secretary, we encountered strong doubt
that we could actually accomplish what we had set out to do. So to counter this concern, we
emphasized our message of a locally constructed co-responsibility system. That it is through the deep
engagement, energy, and work provided by our local partners
that this can and will be done. And it is through this design that
we can better support deeper student learning at the instructional core. We shared the plans and
thoughts of our local leaders. The curriculum and assessment
administrator for the Sanborn Regional New Hampshire school
district, Ellen Hume-Howard was particularly articulate in
our meeting with the Secretary as to all of the planning
and work their district had put into the pilot in the system. After hearing this, both Secretary
Duncan and Assistant Secretary Delisle agreed in principle to
the concept of our pilot and said if others did
this kind of legwork, it would really make it a
lot easier for the department to support innovative practices. Here are some of the core
design principles of the pilot. We wanted to balance the key issues
of transparency and accountability with reciprocal responsibility in terms
of resource commitment and support for leadership and educator capacity. All of these design
principles are necessary as we move forward and building the
system, and are really prerequisites if you will to joining the pilot. We did this by being clear that
there are certain prerequisites that we have come to call guard rails
for approval and entry into the system. In the case of New
Hampshire PACE, districts needed to assure that they have
common competencies in place, a competency-based instructional
design, performance assessments that can and will be validated,
and an agreement to continue to give the large-scale
state assessment and grade spans– elementary, middle, and high. Here’s the agreed-upon
schedule for assessments that was approved by the US Department
of Education in March of this year. Common PACE performance
assessments are assessments that were developed by local educators
and really embedded in curriculum at the local level and agreed
upon as a common assessment given across the participating
districts by content area and by grade. As you can see, we are
still transitioning to a fully competency-based system. But remember, we do exist under
the current legislation of No Child Left Behind and the amendments. And so we had to construct this in a
way that was understandable by folks in the previous system. Meanwhile, we have worked with
national and state partners to develop and deepen our
performance assessment task bank. We were at first concerned that we
would not have a deep enough test bank to meet the expectations of the pilot. But between October of 2014 and now–
really less than a year– the four PACE implementing districts
alone have produced between 140 and 160 performance
assessments in all three content areas. If we have had a problem,
it has been really vetting each of these tasks for
the technical quality requirements that we believe need to be included
in the pilot in a timely fashion so that we can address the
questions that we know will come, both nationally and from the
US Department of Education. Additionally, we have thought very
deeply about how to scale this project. Right now we have eight
implementing districts– we’ve already doubled our size
from the original four– which is about 8% to 10% of our
state’s student population. Also this summer, we have led an
invitation for additional districts to join the PACE project
in one of three tiers. Tier 1, which would be
implementing this year. And that we have closed at the
eight that I just mentioned. Tier 2, which would be for districts
that have competencies K through 12 that they are implementing
in the classroom, but need intensive
professional development in building and implementing
performance assessments. These districts would possibly be
implementing in the following year if all goes well and they feel
like they’re ready to go forward. Tier 3 is for districts that
need to build competencies in implementation practices. They most likely will not be
implementing the PACE accountability system for several years until they’ve
been able to build out their system and have their educators feel
comfortable moving forward. At the same time we have
constructed a system for examining practice and learning
which includes both student work reviews by peers and expert
on-site reviews tied to a deep review of student performance. A review of the first year’s
performance test this summer by all of the participating districts,
as well as expert panel members, really gave us rich information for
implementation this coming year. We hope that our performance assessments
will improve and get stronger as we go forward and our educators
become more comfortable working within such a system. There was a question earlier
about the relationship to educator effectiveness and educator evaluation. I wanted to share it with
you how we are looking at student data in a
competency education environment for these purposes. Our student learning
objectives are essentially made up of the results
of aggregate student work as you can see in the green boxes
here tied to student performance on performance and other assessments. Essentially, educators are held
accountable in such a system to students’ demonstration of competency
attainment on an aggregate level. And the whole system is tied together. The Center for Assessments,
Scott Marion and others have really helped us build out the
system to be as coherent as possible as we’ve gone and put it together. As I mentioned earlier,
Ellen Hume-Howard of the Sanborn Regional
District has been a strong local leader of this effort. Here’s a PACE Wordle that she
constructed which hopefully you see constitutes our hopes for a full
state implementation of New Hampshire PACE, but one that is made up
of state and local partners and a system that has been constructed
by all of the participants– one that is truly owned by us all. Now I’m going to stop there
although I have some time left. I’m sure there are many questions. I did want to, if it’s OK Jessica,
just address one question that came up initially as people signed on. And that had to do with
the issue of comparability. How can a state ensure some consistency
with regard to policy and practice across districts if implementation
is left to a local option decision? And I guess the thing that I would
like to share is that part of our pilot is being able to demonstrate that we
can build consistent and comparable annual determinations of student
proficiency and confidence whether we are using a multiple
measure accountability system or we’re using the large-scale
state assessment system. So we are doing studies back and forth
between the districts that are involved in the PACE pilot versus how
those districts have performed in previous years, as well as in
comparison to districts that are not involved in the PACE
performance assessment project but of similar background,
and similar student demographics, and other factors. So that is actually what
the PACE pilot is about. We of course would not be able to
build a system of accountability where folks join and
become a part of the effort as they become ready without
having an accountability system that is available
for all districts, regardless of their
participation in PACE. So this pilot is really to demonstrate
that such an idea is possible. I’ll stop there. JESSICA BRETT: Great, thank you so
much, Paul, for a great presentation. And really talking about the history
and what’s been involved with this, I think it’s been great to see
how you’re adding additional districts if you’re–
you’ve definitely piqued a lot of interest in some questions. So I’m going to take a couple
questions from the chat. And one was already answered, but
I wanted to talk a little bit more about the task bank. And someone asked if you give a little
bit more information on the task bank and is this resource
available to any state? And what grade or
subjects does it include? PAUL LEATHER: The content
areas included in the task bank are English language
arts, math, and science. We are embedding what we
call work study practices or what many folks are now calling
success skills into those assessments. We have not included them as part of
the grading of the assessments yet, but they are embedded and we are
studying that part of the work. And they are grades 3 through 11. JESSICA BRETT: Great, thank you. Another question someone asked
about comparing and contrasting New Hampshire’s system with similar
systems that were instituted in Nebraska, Kentucky– I don’t know if
you are familiar with them– pre-NCLB, and about what lessons did you learn? I don’t know what your
familiarity is with those. PAUL LEATHER: Well, in talking
to folks like Gene Wilhoit and others who were at least
involved in the Kentucky experience, what we learned is that
we certainly needed to set up a system with partners
that could really advise us on issues of technical quality. We also learned that we
needed to involve educators right from the very beginning
in terms of the overall design of not just the actual assessments, but
the design of the system altogether. We also learned that
communication is essential. And we are learning every day
how important communication is. And as much as we thought we
were prepared for the issues around communication, when you
start to attach the kinds of stakes that an accountability system
have in terms of public education, you can’t be too prepared for
the issue of communication. And that’s in particular, I
would reference stakeholders like legislators, like parents, like
community members, and the ability to communicate overall. And then lastly, I would also say
we learned from a number of folks, including folks from Maine who also
attempted to administer such a system, that you really have to attend to
how much work people in the field are willing and able to put
in to building a new system. If all of it needs to be created
and it needs to be created and it’s a heavy lift
all across the board, and folks can’t see how they’re
going to get from A to B, it becomes overwhelming. And so we felt we needed
to design and an address a number of the design factors very
early on before we started on the work. And that’s why it took us two years to
put the system together before we even got started in terms of accountability. JESSICA BRETT: Great. Thanks. I think we definitely
found that communication is definitely an important issue. And I think one that is really
important to keep in mind. So thank you for bringing that up. One other question that I know is a
common thing about post-secondary work and relates to how colleges
received New Hampshire’s competency-based transcripts or diploma
during the college application process, and what your experience has
been with that transition? PAUL LEATHER: I would say– I
would like to give a shout out to Mark Kostin from A
Great Schools Partnership who I know has been on the call. The Great Schools
Partnership has done a lot around getting acceptance at the college
level, around accepting transcripts. I will say that folks in New Hampshire
have been particularly conservative around the design of transcripts. And although you noted that in
1997, when we first started this, we started with a transcript. We actually found that that’s the
place where we want to be very careful. Because it’s one thing
to talk about stakes, it’s another thing to be
talking about affecting a student’s overall career in
terms of what college they get into and all of that. So we have found that the schools
that have really deeply implemented competency education have been
careful to communicate directly with colleges and universities,
particularly those where a lot of their students attend. Make sure that they accept anything
that looks different on the transcript. And frankly, may not entirely transition
to a fully competency-based transcript, or might provide either a
competency-based transcript or something that looks
much more traditional depending on the colleges need. And the other thing unfortunately
that we always have to recognize is that, particularly with the
large land grant institutions, they need to be able to make
decisions pretty quickly, particularly on a first cut. And so you can’t have big,
long, wordy transcripts. You have to have information
that is easily translatable. With that all said however, more
and more nontraditional students are attending colleges at all levels,
including home schoolers and others. And so admissions folks
are getting more and more adept at understanding where a
student is in terms of their ability to succeed in their institution. JESSICA BRETT: Thanks. It’s great to hear about the transition
as you talk about where you started. I just wanted to pick up on one thing
that you mentioned and was brought up during Aubrey’s
presentation about students with disabilities or
underserved students. I’m wondering how the PACE program
is impacting that, any issues you’ve discovered, or what
challenges or improvements it’s making for those groups? PAUL LEATHER: Well, the
challenge of addressing students who have particular limitations
to educational gain and growth don’t go away with competency education. But the thing I guess we all would
say who are involved deep in this is at least you know where a student is. And you can really focus on where they
are and what they need to show growth. And so a competency
system really needs to be personalized to a student’s needs. It needs to have full support so that
a student who needs greater support will have that. That’s really where some
of this conversation around a reciprocal
education process is. I think where the challenge comes down
to– and I think we don’t any of us have answers to– is so what happens
if a student really falls behind and is not showing the
kind of growth, and you have a system that is
no longer cohort driven where students are moving along whether
they are demonstrating mastery or not. [AUDIO OUT] over time. So it’s really going to be
more evident that students are not gaining if a mastery-
or a competency-based system is actually in place. I think we have a lot to learn
about how to support particular our most challenged students. I think that what we are finding
is that the more we personalize the methodologies of learning, the
anytime, anyplace, anywhere learning, the individualized pace and
individualized support for learning, the more students we know and find are
succeeding in learning, and succeeding at education going beyond high school. That’s been our experience. We’ve seen many more students graduate,
many more students not drop out, many more students find a pathway
to success either in post-secondary or in the community and in careers. So we feel pretty comfortable
that that’s demonstrable. And we have some data
that will support that. But I think the jury is
out as to how it’s done and how it’s scaled over time. JESSICA BRETT: Great, thanks. Yeah, it’s definitely
great to hear about how it’s impacting all those students. We have time for about
one or two more questions. And Paul again will be available at
the end for some additional questions. So thank you for all that
have been posed so far. I want to go to a question
that was just posed that asks if competency
is individualized, is the assessment also individualized? PAUL LEATHER: In our system
as of now, it is not. We have common performance
assessments as we are very much concerned about
being able to demonstrate comparability in a different way. We really wanted to demonstrate that
you could have an accountability system that was not based on a
single large-scale state assessment but could be based on perhaps
deeper assessments that are closer to the learning process and
closer to being embedded in curriculum and learning. We haven’t taken it to the point of
individualized non-common assessments. We think that might be the next step. If that were to happen– and part
of our hope and intent for PACE is that we build it in–
that it will be built in as a part of a system of multiple
assessments, some of which are common, and some of which are
non-common, but much closer to an individual student’s true learning
path and their interests in education. JESSICA BRETT: Great, thanks Paul. It’s great to hear about where
you’ve been and where you’re going. Paul, thank you again
for a great presentation. Please feel free to post your questions
and we’ll have some time again at the end. I’m going to take this opportunity to
move the presentation over to Julia Freeland, who is our discussant today. Again, she’s a research fellow at
the Clayton Christensen Institute and is well versed in New Hampshire
as well as competency-based learning. So we’re happy to have
you here today, Julia. JULIA FREELAND: Great. Thanks so much Jessica. So first off, I want to
thank Aubrey and Paul. Aubrey, first off, it’s wonderful to
have a snapshot that we can compare across states, that many of us
hear about on a one-off basis, but great that you’re keeping us honest
in terms of where each of those states actually is in terms
of policy and practice. And Paul who I’ve had the
great honor of working with closely in my own research,
you refer to yourself as Sisyphus, but I have to say from the
outside, you’re only making progress for a national movement. And your decades of work to get to
this place shouldn’t be underestimated. And we’ll often talk about in
the competency-based community how much, if each state
had a Paul Leather, some of the states that we’re looking
at today might look quite different. So I want to take the
next few minutes just to talk about two
reactions to what we’ve heard about today from Aubrey and Paul. First, I want to discuss why it is
that competency-based education can be really difficult to study and evaluate. And then I want to
pivot sort of relatedly to looking at where policy either
helps or hurts that effort. So I, as Jessica mentioned, I
spent about a year and a half looking at competency-based
practice in New Hampshire. Specifically, I went in
with the research question of how blended learning
was or wasn’t helping to effectuate sort of the implementation
of competency-based pathways. But I came out very much echoing
a lot of Aubrey’s findings across the Northeast which is that
competency-based education is not sort of one thing. And I think that when we talk
about competency-based education as a thing that exists in the world
that we can point to and study, we’re really underestimating the
fact that at this stage in practice, competency-based education is in fact
a dynamic collection of philosophies, policies, and practices. And that although we on this call and
others in the field may use this term, we’re actually all
getting behind slightly different visions of this thing
called competency-based education. Now what’s troubling about this, and
somewhat about Aubrey’s findings, is that from a reform perspective, it
means that rhetoric can get way out ahead of practice in a way
that the movement and the ideas could lose credibility. That’s again why I think Paul’s work
is really important, because it’s real. It’s tangible.
It exists out there. But in other states
that are sort of toying with the idea of competency-based
education, or even states like Aubrey mentioned like
Rhode Island where we have competency-based or proficiency-based
education on the books, if it’s not actually
happening in practice, it’s going to be interpreted as yet
another fad or another quote unquote intervention that doesn’t have teeth. And I argue that this is happening in
part because this term is so capacious and also in part because as it’s gained
steam in the reform conversation, various camps that sort of pre-existed
competency-based have come to the table and sort of put their own
individual stamp on the concept. So what are some of those camps? Now I’m not sort of trying to
pit these against one another. They’re not mutually exclusive. But they’re actually
distinct philosophies about what the delivery of education
should look like and what the goal is. So one camp, and this is
personally what the Christensen Institute sort of our starting point
was, is around blended learning. So as technology has sort of
made its way into classrooms and integrated its way into instruction,
you have a lot of ed tech champions who see technology as
a way to unlock pacing. And they see competency-based education
as the sort of framework or philosophy that unlocks us again from seat time and
from credit hours and the policy that would allow their tools to sort of
effectually personalize learning for each student. You also have another camp of folks
who have been for many decades calling for deeper learning, right, who
think that assessment should be more personalized, that we should not just
lay low at the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, but that we really have to
ensure that students are able to show what they know and are able
to sort of dig in on concepts, not just demonstrate mastery
via rote memorization. And we also have obviously
the standards-based camp. Which again, not at
odds with those last two that I named, but have slightly
different goals in mind. Which is to say that if we can actually
ensure that students have mastered every single standard
that we’ve articulated, will we be producing students
who are college and career ready? And is competency-based as a sort
of pathway the way to get there. And lastly, I think we have
champions of assessment reform– who often sort of hang out
with the deeper learning folks as Paul alluded too–
but who have long been calling for new assessment paradigms. And I think it’s not a coincidence that
New Hampshire has pivoted to really focusing on this last
bucket as I’ve come to think that new assessment
paradigms really sit at the fulcrum of a competency-based system. But this can mean a lot of things. This can mean really pivoting
to performance assessment. It could also mean building a
system of more frequent formative assessments on demand, rather
than lock step with one size fits all pacing guides. So that’s just a taste I
think of a variety of camps that have all come to the table. And we’re all nodding our heads that
competency-based education is likely a good thing for students and is likely
going to push the system towards deeper learning, towards flexible
pacing, towards all the things that we sort of put
under the competency-based umbrella. But as you can guess then,
competency-based approaches on the ground are going to look
vastly different from one another. Additionally, we’re
seeing one level down from those philosophical differences
that some of the classroom strategies that we’re recruiting into
competency-based systems are not necessarily new, but are
being recast under this new name. So you see schools
doing blended learning. You see folks focusing on
just in time supports and RTI. You also see schools that are really
focusing on project-based learning, all calling this
competency-based education. And the problem with that
is A, it’s really hard to study and compare across schools. But B, this also opens the door
in some states who are legislating around competency-based
education for schools to continue doing business as usual
and just call it something different. I think Aubrey sort of alluded to
that in terms of the states that have proposed mandates or implemented
mandates to go competency- or proficiency-based but where,
as you and I probably know, a lot of classrooms in those states
still look quite traditional. So what’s the way forward from this? Well I think that– and I
saw Chris Sturgis is writing a blog on definitions, so I don’t know
if I want you quote me on this Chris, but, I’ll proceed anyways. And you’ve heard me say this before. I think that if we spend too
long thinking about definitions as codified in policy or
by various reform camps, we’re going to be going in circles. And that the real 2.0 step– and
Audrey hit on this in her last slide– is to start to capture,
codify, and study models. School models that involve
various choreographies of how students move
through their learning. School models that involve
different delivery mechanisms. And in so doing, we can own the fact
that there’s variety in implementation, but not sort of get
stuck in the semantics and the cycle of debating definitions. We can also use models
as building blocks. Rather than everyone is building
a whole new system from scratch, if you can codify what different
competency-based models look like, then district by district,
you’re not reinventing the wheel when you try to transition
to a competency-based system. You actually have sort of
prototypes that you can borrow from. And lastly– and this will get into sort
of what I think the policy implications of a model focus could be– is that
if we can be candid about variation but also start to find commonalities
across different school models, then at the state level,
policies can align around models rather than very capacious definitions. So rather than calling everything
competency-based education but seeing a lot of
variation on the ground, we can actually start creating tool
kits to assemble those different models. And I’d argue that Paul’s first
slide– I could go back to, but I’m not going to– his
first slide had four columns. And it was attributed to Rose Colby,
a great thinker in this space. And it outlined the sort of moving
parts of New Hampshire’s 3.0 system. And I think what he’s showing us
there is really a point of view on not just the different models
that are going to take shape in New Hampshire, but the
moving parts that the state can then provide tools around. And it’s really that shift to allowing
difference school models to blossom in a competency-based system
and providing tools to get there that I think is going to
get to scale the approaches that we’re right now just seeing
mostly the ambitions of in policy. Lastly, models are going to
allow research to really blossom because rather than studying this
as a quote unquote intervention, the way that typical education
research tends to evaluate efforts on the ground, we can’t study
competency-based education necessarily as an A/B test
because it’s a paradigm shift in whole school models. However, if we codify those
models, we can actually start to evaluate them against the
things we care about like equity, like serving all students,
like some of the values that I think have come
through your questions. Now quickly to turn to sort
of policy, which I think was sort of at the heart of Paul’s talk. Although of course he’s very
much living the day to day of implementing this in New Hampshire. I think that New Hampshire’s evolution
is a clear testament to the fact that seat time is not
the only policy that’s reinforcing time-based practices. Over the past five years or so, we’ve
seen a huge call for seat time waivers, or getting rid of seat time, or
eliminating the Carnegie unit. And even with that happening, of course,
schools are not sort of instantly flipping the switch to
being competency based. And I gather that that’s because in fact
attendance, funding, the school year calendar, union contracts, the
hegemony of the summative assessment around teacher evaluation
and school grading, there’s all sorts of policies that are
part and parcel of a time-based system that aren’t necessarily credit hours. There’s a great paper by
Maria Worthen of iNACOL and Lillian Pace at KnowledgeWorks
that sort of summarizes the federal obstacles to
competency-based education, which go far beyond just the credit hour. But I think that what Paul’s
presentation highlighted for me was all of the other pieces of policy that have
to be aligned for schools to really be willing and able to do
this work of implementing competency-based education. There is in the current, the Every Child
Achieves Act draft that’s currently under consideration for the sort of
debates around ESEA on the Hill right now, there’s an innovative
assessment pilot program being proposed that I think
would give more states opportunities to do what Paul is doing. And again, although he framed
it as an assessment reform, again if you see assessment
as sort of the fulcrum of a competency-based system, I think
that’s a really promising approach. We’re also encouraged by the fact
that this is a pilot, not a waiver. Because given the spotty
implementation on the ground right now, even states with competency-based
policies on the book may not have the capacity
on the ground to really be implementing
competency-based pathways consistently across all their schools. So it’s great to see what Paul
has done as a model of picking four to eight districts
who are really willing and frankly, have about
five years under their belt of competency-based implementation to
run this pilot in a really robust way. I’ll just wrap up saying that from
spending a couple years looking at this movement, I
think the Northeast has really led from a policy perspective. And I think that we can take
Aubrey’s insights and Paul’s sort of multi-year trajectory
in groundbreaking federal work to translate that momentum
and policy really into practice on the ground. So I’ll hand it back over to Jessica. I know we have Q&A for the
whole group now I think. JESSICA BRETT: Thanks Julia. And I think you raised a lot
of really important questions in a short time period, and I thank
you for all your thoughtfulness on touching on a lot of the
important points I think on models and definitions and all of that. And I do want to move into some
Q&A with all our presenters, an opportunity for them to
either ask each other questions, or we also have some questions still
from the chat and from registration. So feel free to pose them. We still have about 8 to 10
minutes left for questions. And one I just wanted to touch on is
you brought up the question of models. And I don’t know, someone asked
about what data is out there. So for educators who are
starting to implement this, it’s nice to have
evidence of the success. So if anyone can address what
data is currently being used or available to support
the effectiveness of competency-based learning. And it was sort of mentioned in terms
of not necessarily just achievement, but less remedial courses
required as college freshman or greater preparedness for careers. JULIA FREELAND: So this is Julia. I guess I’d say there’s studies showing
that allowing students to progress at their own page is a good thing. I think my point about models is that
we really haven’t yet codified school models that we can study in a
reliable way against the variables that we care about. And I’m seeing Erica’s
question also around the idea of codifying a model-based approach. You know, I am slightly
biased here because what we’ve done at the Christensen
Institute around blended learning is exactly this. So rather than say what we
think the field should look like of blended learning,
we’ve got out, surveyed schools that are doing blended
learning, and then codified what they’re up to so that
hopefully schools in the future don’t have to reinvent the wheel. What that’s also allowed for is larger
research institutions like RAND and SRI to do randomized controlled
trials within those models to test what’s working and what’s not. So I think it’s too early– and Paul
and Aubrey may disagree– but it’s too early in terms of having
the right models to study to then say it is or isn’t working. Because again, that
mentality has to do with sort of treating competency-based
education as an intervention versus a whole school model shift. AUBREY SHEOPNER TORRES:
I think I’ll chime in. I agree with your last
point there, Julia. I think it’s really– a lot of
these districts, even the ones that are really far ahead, including
those in New Hampshire, they’re still working on this. We’ve had the fortunate
experiences, I’ve been able to talk with
some of the PACE schools, and they’re really
far ahead of the game. But they still are working
on different things. And so there was a point
that we made in our reports that the timing of when you look at
the outcomes is really important. Because for a lot of these
districts and a lot of these models that are there right
now, it’s a little too soon to be looking at their outcomes. Because they’re still really working
to implement this with fidelity across their system. So I think that’s part
of the struggle right now too is getting the timing right. There’s a lot of researchers that are
going in there now trying to document what the implementation process is too. And I think that could be
a really important piece. But the timing I think
is an issue right now. JESSICA BRETT: Thanks Paul. I just want to see if
you want to chime in. If not, that’s fine.
We have other questions. PAUL LEATHER: The only
other thing I would add is that we have had a pretty significant
investment recently to evaluate PACE. Not that PACE is a
fully articulated model, but it is a certain kind
of model to implement a competency education at scale,
at least the beginnings of one. And so having that comprehensive
evaluation I think should be useful. It’s a two year pilot. We expect that we’ll
have results sometime in the coming year or year and a half. JESSICA BRETT: Great, thanks Paul. And I just don’t know if
you want to add anything. I know you answered in the chat the
question about student voice and pace. If there’s anything you want
to share with everybody, I thought that was an interesting
question and a good component to this process as well. PAUL LEATHER: Right. Well, one of the things that we
spent a lot of time on last week was how to increase the
amount of voice and choice for students in common PACE assessments. And on the one hand, we want
to have a system that we can measure as being comparable. And at the same time, we want to
advance personalized learning as much as possible where the student
has as much control and say in what they’re learning
and how they’re designing it. And so as we build out our
elements of comparability and our elements of distinction
if you will between one assessment and another, we are looking at that. I think it’s important however to
note that what we’re trying to do isn’t trying to wrap our ourselves
entirely around all teaching and learning. What we’re trying to do is to
create an accountability system that will at least not get in the way
of a personalized student-centered competency-based learning system. And that will hopefully
be supportive of it. The issue of voice and choice I
think is the tricky part of this. And so we’re working on it. And I appreciate the question,
and I appreciate the fact that we have to continue to
provide focus in this area. JESSICA BRETT: Thanks Paul. And I know we’ve had a couple
questions on a different topic about adaptive assessments and fitting
into competency-based learning. I don’t know if someone wants
to address that as well. JULIA FREELAND: This is Julia. So I think Chris’s answer, Chris
Sturgis’s answer sort of got to this, but we think of adaptive assessment
as very much formative, right? So a student can be online working
through an individual learning pathway that adapts as they go. And that’s obviously very much
competency- or mastery-based in the narrowest sense of the word, right? It’s allowing you to move through
material at your own pace. I think that what we’re
seeing in a lot of schools is that it’s sort of both and. That you might use an
adaptive software program to ensure that students
are progressing along at a pace appropriate to
their needs and strengths, but that you’ll also
have deeper learning experiences either in a project-based
capacity or a performance assessment opportunity or capstone project where
students are forced to go deeper and to demonstrate what
they know beyond just recall within that adaptive platform. But I certainly think,
as Paul was talking about, moving to a system of
multiple, both individually and common assessments. I think that adaptive software
can be an enormous tool to do this at scale, which is another
whole area that we haven’t even touched on in terms of why competency-based
education is going to be really tricky to actually spread state
wide, throughout the states we’re talking about today. JESSICA BRETT: Thanks, Julia.
Aubrey or Paul, anything? We have time for probably one more
question before we need to wrap up. AUBREY SHEOPNER TORRES: I mean, I think
in our study we touched on assessment. But again, it was one
of those issues that kept coming up that we
said you know, it wasn’t one of our main research questions. So we’ve definitely put that
in our next research study as looking at how these
schools and districts are using different forms of assessment
in a competency-based model. And I think this is a huge question. And hopefully we can get that next
study out there so that we can answer and address some of these questions. PAUL LEATHER: Yeah, I guess
the only thing I would add is there are degrees of
adaptive assessment, right? There’s the formative assessment that
follows blended and online systems that is very much tied to the
teaching and learning that’s going on at the moment. And then there are adaptive assessments
like Smarter Balanced assessment and NWEA and others where you
have a single moment in time and it’s adaptive to how
the student actually answers on a given question going forward. So it’s worth further discussion. I think that it depends on
where the adaption is going on and what form of assessment are
you really trying to address? Is it formative, or are you
looking at a summative experience? The other thing that I would
just raise is in assessments, the issue of grain size is so important. We’re really trying to have a higher, a
larger grain size so that we can really suss out, if you will, kind
of a student’s overall sense and usability of the
knowledge and skills that they’ve been gaining so that we
can demonstrate real competency as it relates to authentic tasks. I think this is one of the big questions
that needs to be addressed as we talk about the connection between blended,
personalized, and competency-based learning, which I think many of
us are moving to a system that includes all of those pieces. And that’s something that’s
worthy of another deep discussion, JESSICA BRETT: Thanks Paul,
and thank you everyone. I think as we can see, we’ve
had a lot of great information and it’s raising a lot
of great questions. More things to look into
and a great conversation, so I want to take a minute again
to thank all of our presenters today for talking with us today. And thank you to our participants
for joining us today to talk about. It’s obviously a rapidly
growing field of work around competency-based learning. And we are definitely looking forward
to continuing this conversation and hear from REL Northeast & Islands. We do have some additional reports
coming out about the topic. So look forward to sharing those
and working more with Paul and Julia and talking about all these events. As you can see, we’re always
looking to improve on our events. So if you could take a minute
at the end of the event today to complete the survey,
we appreciate your feedback. The link is right up on here
as well as down in the box. And I’d like, as I said, thank
you again for all our presenters. On behalf of REL Northeast
& Islands and the Northeast College and Career Readiness Alliance. And if you’d like
additional information, feel free to reach out to any
the presenters or Josh or myself. And the recording of this
webinar will be archived on the Rel Northeast & Islands website. If you’d like to refer to
anything discussed today or to share the link with anyone who
was able to attend today’s event. And also our report will be posted
up there as well as today’s slides. So thank you everyone for attending,
and have a great afternoon. JENNY STERN-CARUSONE: On behalf
of the REL Northeast & Islands, thank you for joining us today. In two to three weeks, you will
receive a thank you email from us with a link to the webinar archive. And as Jessica said, we appreciate
your completion of the feedback survey. Have a wonderful evening.
Good bye.

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