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Fix, Don’t Discard MCAS/PARCC

This fall I had one on one conversations with many of our state's leaders and experts on the misplaced opposition to testing in gen...

Monday, December 28, 2015

MOOCs will replace APs

·         ·        More people signed up for MOOCs in 2015 than they did in the first three years of the “modern” MOOC movement (which started in late 2011—when the first Stanford MOOCs took off).
·         ·        Coursera accounts 35% of all MOOC users, EdX 18%, Canvas 7%, Future Learn 6%, most others on radar account for 1-4%
·         1,800 new courses in 2015
·         Edu and teaching accounts for 9.5% of classes
·         Newest trend in business model has been MOOC providers creating their own credentials as main source of revenue
·         Avg coursera certificate course is $56, EdX $53
·         Large increase in self-paced courses
·         Providers targeting high school market for stake in college readiness


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Competency-Based Progression

Competency-Based Progression
Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH

1.       We believe that all students can and must learn. In each of our courses, our competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower our students. They address both the application and creation of knowledge and the development of work study practices.

2.       We believe that all teachers must approach grading in the same manner. Grades represent what students learn, not what they earn. We use a four-point letter rubric scale to report both assignment and competency levels of achievement. Numerical “grades” are used only to report final overall course grades so we can compute class rank and GPA for college application purposes. We do not mix academic grades with behavior grades.

3.       We believe that the most significant learning takes place for our students through reflection and reassessment. Our students use the feedback they receive from rubrics to help them understand how to improve their learning.

4.       We believe that our teachers are most effective when they work in teams. We use the Professional Learning Community (PLC) structure to focus our teams on student learning. Over the years, we have found ways to maximize the time allotted for our teachers to collaborate with their PLC’s and this time is available to our teachers every day.

5.       We believe that assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students. Our teachers focus on providing quality aligned instruction and performance assessment practices that are tuned to standards, providing students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery.

6.       We believe that all students must receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. We recognize that this support cannot always be embedded within the instructional time, and therefore our school has developed a structure to provide this support school-wide at a dedicated time each school day.

7.       We believe that there are many ways for our students to demonstrate mastery of competencies and thus earn credit for their graduation requirements. At our school, we have expanded credit-bearing opportunities far beyond simple traditional classroom courses. Through these alternative pathways, we have started to create a system whereby our students can advance upon demonstrated mastery.

8.       We believe that competency education is rigorous. Rigor is not defined by how much work we assign our students. It is defined by how deeply we engage them in their thinking, understanding, application, and extension of the skills and concepts presented to them through their coursework. We tune our instruction and assessment to the work of Hess’s Rigor Matrix.

9.       We believe that our school’s competency education philosophy aligns perfectly with the competency based systems that colleges and universities are moving to. To that end, we believe that a competency education model is the best way to prepare our students for college and career.

10.   We believe that competency education is ultimately transformed not by the way we report grades or how we build assessments but rather by how we approach instruction in the classroom. Our classroom teachers recognize that quality instruction engages all learners each and every day.

This article was written originally for Competency Works

How My Understanding of Competency Based Education Has Changed Over the Years
by Brian Stack • December 14, 2015 • 0 Comments

Each day as I interact with our teachers and our students, I am reminded to what extent our decision to move to a competency based model has positively influenced our school’s culture and climate, and our philosophy about learning. Today we are graduating students who have never known any other educational system than the one I described above. We spend a great deal of time with our new staff each fall indoctrinating them with our beliefs about teaching and learning. Each day I see small victories from our work that range from students who are being held to higher standards to teacher teams who continue to advance their own understanding and application of the competency education philosophy. I challenge you to ask any of my teachers if they could ever go back to a traditional mindset and I can assure you that you won’t find one who would. We have truly transformed our professional culture into one focused on student learning

Next week, I am excited to be sharing the work that my team and I have done in New Hampshire on competency based education with a group of South Carolina educators as part of the Transform SC institute on Meeting the Needs of Every Student With Competency Based Progression. My preparation for this institute has been an opportunity for me to reflect on what has now been a six year journey with competency education with Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. This past week, our school district was recognized for the second year in a row as a “leader in competency education” by Tom Vander Ark’s organization Getting Smart, noting that Sanborn was one of 30 School Districts Worth Visiting in 2015.

Throughout my journey as a building principal navigating the uncharted waters of a new competency education model, I have shared my thoughts, my reflections, and my research through articles on Competency Works. It has been three years since I wrote one of my first articles entitled Five Things That Changed At My School When We Adopted Competencies. I am often asked how my views of competency education have evolved during my tenure at Sanborn. In that 2012 article, I talked about how our school community decided to “jump into the deep end of the pool” of high school redesign in an effort to provide a better learning experience for our students with a new competency based education model. I noted some big changes for our school community that, at the time, was in its second year of implementation of a competency education model that was adopted by our entire K-12 district. We were a school who was still very much in transition from an old way of thinking to a new one. We were leveraging our grading and reporting structures to ultimately help us transform instruction at the classroom model. Over the years, our understanding of competency education has deepened. We continue to learn more about ourselves each day through our work with our students and each other as professionals. When visitors come to our school and talk with our teachers and our students, here is what they often tell me they take away from their visit.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Classroom Practices That Boost – and Dampen – Student Agency

From Marshall Memo:

1. Classroom Practices That Boost – and Dampen – Student Agency

            In this paper from Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative, Ronald Ferguson, Sarah Phillips, Jacob Rowley, and Jocelyn Friedlander report on their study of the ways in which grade 6-9 teachers in 490 schools influenced their students’ non-cognitive skills. The central variable that Ferguson and his colleagues measured was students’ agency. This, they write, “is the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative – the opposite of helplessness. Young people with high levels of agency do not respond passively to their circumstances; they tend to seek meaning and act with purpose to achieve the conditions they desire in their own and others’ lives. The development of agency may be as important an outcome of schooling as the skills we measure with standardized testing.”

            The researchers used data from Tripod surveys of students’ perceptions of their teachers [see Marshall Memo 461] to examine how Ferguson’s “Seven C” components of instruction (caring, conferring, captivating, clarifying, consolidating, challenging, and managing the classroom) influenced agency, which manifested itself in the following ways:
-              Punctuality – The student tries hard to arrive to class on time.
-              Good conduct – The student is cooperative, respectful, and on task.
-              Effort – The student pushes him- or herself to do the best quality work.
-              Help-seeking – The student is not shy about asking for help when needed.
-              Conscientiousness – The student is developing a commitment to produce quality work.
-              Happiness – The student regards the classroom as a happy place to be.
-              Anger – The student experiences this in class, which may boost or dampen agency.
-              Mastery orientation – The student is committed to mastering lessons in the class.
-              Sense of efficacy – The student believes he or she can be successful in the class.
-              Satisfaction – The student is satisfied with what he or she has achieved in the class
-              Growth mindset – The student is learning to believe that he or she can get smarter.
-              Future orientation – The student is becoming more focused on future aspirations (e.g., college).

The researchers also identified a number of disengagement behaviors – the opposite of agency: faking effort, generally not trying, giving up if the work is too hard, and avoiding help.
What did the data reveal? Ferguson and his colleagues found that some teaching behaviors were agency boosters and others were agency dampers, indicating the delicate balance teachers must maintain between what they ask of students (academic and behavioral press) and what they give students (social and academic support). 

The details:

• Agency boosters – Requiring rigor came through strongly in the study – asking students to think more rigorously by striving to understand concepts, not simply memorize facts, or to explain their reasoning. This boosts mastery orientation, increases effort, growth mindset, conscientiousness, and future aspirations – but sometimes diminishes students’ happiness in class, feelings of efficacy, and satisfaction with what they’ve achieved. “These slightly dampened emotions in the short term,” say the researchers, “seem small prices to pay for the motivational, mindset, and behavioral payoffs we predict to result from requiring rigorous thinking. Combinations of teaching practices – for example, appropriately differentiated assignments, lucid explanations of new material, and curricular supports to accompany demands for rigor – seem quite relevant in this context.”

• Agency dampers – Caring may sometimes entail coddling: “in an effort to be emotionally supportive,” say the authors, “some teachers may be especially accommodating and this may depress student conduct as well as academic persistence.” Conferring can sometimes lack a clear purpose, which can undermine student effort and reduce time on task. Clearing up confusion can occur too automatically, with teachers doing the work for students and denying them the incentive and opportunity to diagnose and correct their own misunderstandings, which diminishes effort and conscientiousness.
• Future-orientation boosters – Caring and captivating are the teaching components most closely associated with college aspirations, the researchers found.
• Achievement boosters – Challenge and classroom management are the components correlated with students doing well on standardized tests, as the Measures of Effective Teaching study found.
“The point is not that there is a trade-off between annual learning gains and higher aspirations,” say Ferguson and colleagues. “Instead, the point is that the most important agency boosters for each are different. A balanced approach to instructional improvement will prioritize care and captivate to bolster aspirations, and challenge and classroom management to strengthen the skills that standardized tests measure. Certainly, without the skills that tests measure, college aspirations might be futile. But in turn, without college aspirations, the payoffs to those skills may be limited.”
Here is their distillation of ten classroom practices that develop agency:
-              Care – Be attentive and sensitive, but avoid codding students in ways that hold them to lower standards of effort and performance.
-              Confer – Encourage and respect students’ perspectives and honor student voice, but do so while remaining focused on instructional goals – and don’t waste class time with idle chatter.
-              Captivate – Make lessons stimulating and relevant while knowing that some students may hide their interest.
-              Clarify with lucid explanations – Strive to develop clearer explanations, including how the skills and knowledge you teach are useful in the exercise of effective agency in real life – especially for the material students find most difficult.
-              Clarify by clearing up confusion – Take regular steps to detect and respond to confusion in class, but do so in ways that share responsibility with students.
-              Clarify with instructive feedback – Give instructive feedback in ways that provide scaffolding for students to solve their own problems.
-              Consolidate – Regularly summarize lessons to help consolidate learning.
-              Challenge by requiring rigor – Press students to think deeply instead of superficially about what they are learning. Anticipate some resistance from students who might prefer a less-stressful approach – but be tenacious.
-              Challenge by requiring persistence – Consistently require students to keep trying and searching for ways to succeed even when work is difficult.
-              Classroom management – Achieve respectful, orderly, and on-task student behavior by using clarity, captivation, and challenge instead of coercion.

“The Influence of Teaching: Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency – A Study of 16,000 Sixth Through Ninth-Grade Classrooms” by Ronald Ferguson with Sarah Phillips, Jacob Rowley, and Jocelyn Friedlander, a paper from The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University, Oct. 2015, http://www.agi.harvard.edu/publications.php
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