Less concern about how much time students spend in their seats and more concern about how much they learn

In an ideal world, students would advance or tarry based on their fluency with the material. Kids who mastered the material quickly would leap ahead. Struggling peers would stay a bit longer.

But such individualized attention is not easy in education systems wedded to 180-day school years, 8-to-3 daily schedules and once-a-year administration of proficiency exams.

States are experimenting with highly personalized high school learning programs and schedules that increase engagement and lead to improved graduation rates.

Look at what Michigan and Ohio are doing.

I am sharing a statement from the Alliance for Excellent Education on New Hampshire’s competency-based learning approach, which is getting a lot of attention:  The alliance is holding a webinar today at 2 p.m. on New Hampshire’s program. Click here for info on it.)

For a century, most students have advanced from grade to grade based on the number of days they spend in class, but in New Hampshire, schools have moved away from “seat time” and toward “competency-based learning,” which advances students when they have mastered course content.

Strengthening High School Teaching and Learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System, a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, profiles how two high schools in New Hampshire made this shift and examines the changes that were necessary to make competency-based advancement an important part of New Hampshire’s strategy for implementing the Common Core State Standards and ensuring that students graduate ready for college and a career.

“When people are buying a new car, they don’t ask how long it took to build,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Instead, they ask how well it performs. For too long, the nation’s education system has promoted students based on how long they spent sitting in a classroom rather than what they have learned. New Hampshire’s experience, although still evolving, holds tremendous promise as an approach for improving student learning outcomes in a system that encourages advancement by demonstrating competency instead of completing seat time.”

Of particular interest in New Hampshire’s move to a competency-based system are the changes in teacher and principal roles, as well as instructional practice, that are necessary to successfully implement this exciting new approach to learning. In both schools featured in the report—Sanborn Regional High School and Spaulding High School—school leaders and teachers are encouraged to become more active designers of their curriculum and of student-centered learning environments. Teachers and principals have the opportunity and time to collaborate with one another and their peers across schools and districts to share ideas and enhance their own professional development.

A move toward competency-based learning has also required the schools to reimagine their grading policies and create new course competencies and assessments. For example, both schools have eliminated the “A–F” and numbered grading system and replaced it with ratings that include “not yet competent” and “insufficient work submitted.” Students deemed not yet competent are offered additional interventions until they reach mastery, including online tools, one-on-one teacher time, and student collaboration. Additionally, both schools have adopted unique and innovative learning approaches, such as digital learning, that they use to create a more flexible learning schedule that extends beyond the school day.

“As more states and schools look for alternatives to traditional seat-time policies, New Hampshire’s experience provides an excellent opportunity for other states to review effective designs, systems, practices, and policies needed to ensure the capacity of teachers and leaders to implement competency-based learning for all of the nation’s students,” said Wise.

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

40 comments Add your comment

HS Math Teacher

January 22nd, 2013
12:41 pm

Now, we’re getting somewhere. I, and others on here, have known for years that the most crucial problems facing public high schools have been students promoted to high school who aren’t on grade level, and putting all students of varied abilities in the same classroom, teaching them the same thing. It’s certainly true that seat-time alone does not, and should not equal competency in a given course.

It will be interesting to see the above learning model refined and somewhat perfected. Hopefully, Georgia will go to this approach.

Won't happen in Ga.

January 22nd, 2013
12:47 pm

This state won’t ever be this progressive, not unless the govt. figures out a way to equate it with less funding.

GT Alumna

January 22nd, 2013
12:51 pm

I was really diggin’ it until the elimination of objective scores. What a crock. If you truly mastered the concepts, you should be able to prove it based upon correct responses. Getting rid of A-F system reminds me of the crap Cobb County instituted for K-3. And when you consider these are high school students, it would be a good idea if they had some way to show grading scale. After all, the end objective is for most of these kids to get into college and colleges want to uses comparative information.

And another thing… it’s about time somebody stood against the edufad known as differentiation. Too many cohorts in the classroom really complicates the teacher’s job. Additionally, there is no “spark of learning” going from the highly capable to the struggling student. Often, these two cohorts never interface. I seem to remember some research studies that show that the separation of the spectrum extremes will allow some of those students in the middle to take a more prominent role in the classroom.

NH Resident

January 22nd, 2013
12:53 pm

I am an Atlanta transplant who lives in NH. The NH way sounds great but when my husband taught in a NH public school and the teachers tried to implement this plan in our local rural school district the parents fought it tooth and nail until the principal watered it down so much that it was useless. The math teachers designed a system where each child worked at their level in their timing. Some students in high school didn’t know fractions so they were able to go back and review and may only get through 1/2 year of Algebra I in a year because of the gaps that needed to be filled. The advanced learners could possibly get through 1.5 classes or even 2 classes if they pre-tested out of a lot of the material that they already knew. It was a great system until ignorant parents (”If the old way was good enough for me…..”) ruined it. So, like most things in public education, NH does great in their talk but it’s not really being implemented in the local schools in many places. If it is, parents shoot it down fast and spineless administrators won’t stand up to them.

William Casey

January 22nd, 2013
12:55 pm

Totally logical idea. The political problem with it is that such a system would provide, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that “all men are NOT created equal.”

William Casey

January 22nd, 2013
12:58 pm

“prove” rather than “provide”… need more coffee! LOL

beteachin

January 22nd, 2013
1:00 pm

This won’t fly in Georgia’s culture–good or bad. Here’s why:
1. The uber-pushy and politically-active parents would have no way to prove whose child is “best of the best.” “Exceeds the standard” is not good enough for parents who expect their children to become valedictorian. Funny how it would be good enough for colleges but not good enough for these parents….
2. Many students do not live in a home setting that supports a non-traditional schedule. These students can hardly get their homework done as it is. If teachers don’t present the curriculum during the hours the kids are in the building, then those kids will not interact with the curriculum. Let’s face it; if I can’t expect my high school students to bring their own pencils and paper to school, then I can’t expect them to take responsibility for individual educational progress. (I do expect them to provide their own supplies, but if they don’t, I must supply them anyway.)
3. Teachers would be out of work! If the teacher is not needed to translate the curriculum and present and assess the material, then what’s to stop the State from hiring one subject-matter expert per grade level and putting him/her on the web? Providing each child in Georgia with a computer and web access is cheaper than paying the teachers. Education as we know it would truly disappear.

Good or bad??

I would love

January 22nd, 2013
1:10 pm

to be able to put as a “grade” – insufficient work submitted!!!! Then, at least, we can start to focus on students who are loath to do work and put some of the onus on them!

paulo977

January 22nd, 2013
1:12 pm

“this exciting new approach to learning. In both schools featured in the report—Sanborn Regional High School and Spaulding High School—school leaders and teachers are encouraged to become more active designers of their curriculum and of student-centered learning environments. ”

_________________________________________________

This is not new …. it has just been forgotten after Reagan ushered in the era of testing and more testing! In an era when British oriented rigid practices were rife in coomonwealth countries, American educators , ( philosophers , curriculum writers, psychologists ) gave the world alternative ways of unleashing learning in children !!

Beverly Fraud

January 22nd, 2013
1:15 pm

To take an idea from Amazon. What might be really instructive. Anonymous feedback from teachers and (to prevent retaliation.) For example are teachers really given time to collaborate, or is that being given lip service.

You could glean a lot (not unlike Amazon) from reading reviews of those who love it and those who loathe it.

Give principals the same chance as well; anonymous feedback. Give them the chance to say (if those who bash teachers are right) “I love this program, but my teachers are too incompetent to implement it.” (Of course if the administrator says “my teachers is too incompetent” that might tell you what you need to know right there. Of course no administrator with an advance degree would ever write that…not in Georgia anyway.)

Attentive Parent/Invisible Serfs Collar

January 22nd, 2013
1:39 pm

Competency is just the newest synonym for Outcomes as in Outcomes Based Education. The term obscures how much is about generic skills and attitudes. There is very little knowledge in a competency based approach. So you close the achievement gap by limiting anyone’s access to knowledge.

Competency fits well with the computer digital learning mandate that is part of Common Core. Just finished reading Digital Learning Now’s report that was released this morning. The fact that simulations and gaming count as assessments should bother parents. So should the fact that the other name for Digital Learning is Cyberlearning and the proclaimed desire there is to actually weaken mental capacities not strengthen them. Let the machine be smart instead of people. http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/the-need-to-know-as-we-understand-it-today-may-be-a-lethal-cultural-sport/ is the troubling Cyberlearning story using the National Science Foundation’s own statements of what is sought.

Finally Competency aligns with the poorly understood PISA created by the OECD to push education globally away from the transmission of knowledge. If you follow OECD documents they say PISA and their education initiatives are to drive their Green Growth government directed economic vision for the 21st century. PISA is based on DeSeCo–Definition and Selection of Competencies. It is based on the European idea of taking care of existing large businesses but not allowing for any real new job growth or small business. Yes, the OECD docs really do say that.

That would be the one where they also admit there is no mass prosperity. A pretty lousy deal unless you work for a connected tech company hoping to sell and service all this expensive equipment.

Mary Elizabeth

January 22nd, 2013
2:03 pm

I am very glad to read this article, and to learn of the impetus in this direction. This is one major answer to the problem of having a 30%+ high school drop-out rate. Students have differing abilities and aptitudes and, thus, they will learn, and master concepts, at differing rates.

We must recognize, too, that the end result to competency-based education may well mean that, for some students, completing the criteria for a high school diploma may take more than the standard 4 years, but that that extra time given to these students to complete the criteria for a high school diploma is preferable to having students drop out of school, in part, because they had been trying (for years) to function, unsuccessfully, on their frustration levels – primarily because of the ineffective design of a school system’s instructional model.

http://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/educational-essay-9-my-thoughts-for-improving-public-education/

Beverly Fraud

January 22nd, 2013
2:15 pm

I bet if this was Amazon serf would be in the zero stars category if she was doing a review of this. But I think one would be hard pressed to say she is resistant to this because she’s “incompetent”.

@ME, as much as you have highlighted the “agenda” of organizations like ALEC, do you not, in a similar vein, see some troubling implications of what Serf has tried to highlight?

I myself would like to see someone offer an effective rebuttal to Serf, but I have yet to see one.

Beverly Fraud

January 22nd, 2013
2:29 pm

@Maureen, have you ever offered Invisible a chance to comment in print on concerns about the Common Core?

I’m still looking for ways to discount Serf’s POV (because the implications are indeed troubling) but so far I find effective rebuttals wanting.

Mary Elizabeth

January 22nd, 2013
2:42 pm

From the link below: “For several years, Georgia officials touted improving graduation rates even though warning signs abounded that large numbers of dropouts were being ignored.

Former State School Superintendent Kathy Cox said some districts, under pressure to graduate more high schoolers, might have looked the other way when students left.”

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/georgia-failed-to-count-thousands-of-high-school-d/nRMLL/

bootney farnsworth

January 22nd, 2013
2:43 pm

never happen. makes too much sense and will effectively create winners and losers

bootney farnsworth

January 22nd, 2013
2:47 pm

this would be a perfect thing for charters to try. with their ability to focus/select students, it would create an environment condusive to excellence.

my only concern is graduating 15 year olds who are not emotionally or socially ready for college

bootney farnsworth

January 22nd, 2013
2:50 pm

aaaaah wait a minute….

aren’t Michigian and Ohio union states? I thought the unions were strangling all initiative in education.

Beverly Fraud

January 22nd, 2013
2:55 pm

Former State School Superintendent Kathy Cox said some districts, under pressure to graduate more high schoolers, might have looked the other way when students left.”

And which way were you looking Kathy? Certainly not in your “good friend” Beverly Hall’s direction…maybe Kathy, you were too busy trying to bamboozle the AJC into believe why you couldn’t release the cut scores.

With a track record like that, it’s a wonder Herb Garrett hasn’t given you an award yet.

Attentive Parent/Invisible Serfs Collar

January 22nd, 2013
4:54 pm

Beverly-I actually wrote a story back in September explaining the link between the term Competency and Transformational Outcomes Based education. Professor Milton Rokeach laid out the how and whys of using the term to obscure what was really being targeted in his 1968 book Beliefs Attitudes and Values. And yes I have a copy. Sme goals as OBE but just a different order.

I explained it here. http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/targeting-student-values-attitudes-and-beliefs-to-control-future-behavior/

Given the gravity of what I have been describing I wish I was wrong too. But I am not. Which is why it has to be discussed. Sunlight is the only way to stop this pending implosion of much of what we value and the only things that have ever created mass prosperity.

NH Resident

January 22nd, 2013
5:09 pm

Oh, and my husband just reminded me that the state of NH didn’t back the teachers using this system when the parents went to the NH Dept. of Ed. to complain. Nice talk, but the NH Dept. of Ed.isn’t even backing this up if parents complain about it being “different.”

Atlanta Mom

January 22nd, 2013
5:42 pm

My concern is how does one determine competency? If the student had to pass an EOCT that covered all the material the child should have learned– a test that might take 4-6 hours to complete (to be given over a number of days), then maybe I’d believe competency had been attained.
But, if the teacher can “declare victory” because he/she is tired of looking at the student for the third year, then maybe it doesn’t work.

Attentive Parent/Invisible Serfs Collar

January 22nd, 2013
6:07 pm

Atl Mom-the Common Core is not about content or knowledge except politically useful basic concepts.

And learning actually means changing the student. It can be values, attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. Rokeach said it was a mixture of skills and values and that is consistent with the OECD definition.

As odd as this will sound, everything going on around the real Common Core implementation is designed to keep the mental aspects to a minimum. It’s why you get activities or visual impact instead.

I use a metaphor called the Axemaker Mind to explain it because James Burke wrote a book called The Axemaker’s Gift. He openly acknowledged it is the abstract, reasoning mind being targeted.

So Competency is consistent with no more Axemaker Minds and a citizen drone who will largely do what they have been told. And these are shockingly generic skills like “an ability to communicate.”

living in an outdated ed system

January 22nd, 2013
6:20 pm

Good stuff. We absolutely must move to a competency based system and stop pushing kids through “the system.” Several years ago, I tutored a metro Atlanta student who was an 11th grader, but reading at a 3RD GRADE LEVEL. Unacceptable.

Dr. Monica Henson

January 22nd, 2013
10:34 pm

bootney farnsworth posted, “this would be a perfect thing for charters to try. with their ability to focus/select students, it would create an environment condusive to excellence.”

Once more, all together please: Charter schools do NOT have the ability to select students. They are required to enroll all eligible students in their attendance zone, holding a public lottery if there are more applicants for enrollment than available seats, with a waiting list established by the drawing.

Dr. Monica Henson

January 22nd, 2013
10:44 pm

Competency-based learning is what we practice at my charter high school. Students advance at their own pace, not according to a set calendar of deadlines. For those concerned about whether “competency” as we define it adheres to what “competency” is as defined in a seat-time, brick and mortar model: we use the EOCT to measure it, and equivalent exams in non-EOCT courses.

Nothing makes me madder than fire than to see a student transcript where a kid failed the course but passed the EOCT–and I put that fire out by awarding that student the credit s/he deserves. A student who can pass the EOCT but is failed by a classroom teacher for not playing the game of school properly by doing the busywork that passes for instruction in many high school classrooms is a student who is being done a serious disservice by the adults charged with educating him or her.

This is what I meant in a recent post on a different thread: there is a hell of a lot more wrong with many of the adults in the public school system than there is with the kids who end up dropping out of it. How many times as a district school administrator I heard in a parent-teacher conference: “Well, he would be passing my class if he would just do the homework. He makes As on the tests.”

This is just flatly wrong. Someone please show me where in the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards “completing busywork when one already can make an A on the test” appears. Don’t tell me it’s teaching the kid a work ethic. Let’s call it exactly what it is: wasting the kid’s time.

There are few greater injustices that teachers commit than to base student grades on anything other than demonstration that they have attained mastery of a curriculum standard.

Pride and Joy

January 23rd, 2013
3:26 am

Dr. Monica, THREE BIG CHEERS for your 10:44 comment!

HS Math Teacher

January 23rd, 2013
6:41 am

Dr. Henson:

I agree totally.

Laurie

January 23rd, 2013
8:15 am

Dr. Monica Henson wrote: “How many times as a district school administrator I heard in a parent-teacher conference: ‘Well, he would be passing my class if he would just do the homework. He makes As on the tests.’ This is just flatly wrong. Someone please show me where in the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards ‘completing busywork when one already can make an A on the test’ appears. Don’t tell me it’s teaching the kid a work ethic. Let’s call it exactly what it is: wasting the kid’s time.”

Hear, hear.

Our daughter’s third grade teacher required the kids to take a spelling pre-test, then copy the spelling words over and over each night for a week (an hour or two of homework, depending on handwriting speed), then take the post-test. My husband and I had to have TWO conferences with the teacher to get her to waive the spelling homework for our daughter (who was spending 45 – 150 minutes a night on homework). I asked what the purpose of the spelling homework was. “To improve spelling.” I pointed out that she was getting 100% on the spelling pre-tests. Eventually the teacher agreed to allow all of the children to skip copying any words that they had gotten right on the pre-test.

Did suggesting this policy demonstrate pedagogical genius on my part? I didn’t think so; I thought it was just common sense.

old teach

January 23rd, 2013
8:26 am

@Dr. Henson:
How many times as a district school administrator I heard in a parent-teacher conference: “Well, he would be passing my class if he would just do the homework. He makes As on the tests.”

I hope that you haven’t seen this situation “that many times.” If the student makes As on the tests, then the homework grade itself shouldn’t cause him to fail. It sounds as if either this kid is placed wrong or the student is retaking a course–different scenarios requiring different actions. And passing the EOCT is a nebulous thing, when the cutscore is a moving target.

Jake

January 23rd, 2013
9:54 am

First of all Michigan and NH are only piloting this in affluent areas where differentiation and remediation and poor parenting are not an issue. This will only work in areas where parents are parents and don’t rely on schools to “feed, cloth, medicate, call dentists and optomistrist” for folks on medicad in the first place. Schools across this country are suroggating for parents so they can get high and sleep and watch freddy kruger all day. It is a shame when a welfare reciepent with SS can’t get their own kid to the dentist or eye doctor when it doesn’t cost them a dime. Kids can learn if their mouth hurts or they need glasses. There are far more concerning things than this issue.

Jake

January 23rd, 2013
9:54 am

“kids CAN’T learn if their mouth hurst or they need glasses.

Dr. Monica Henson

January 23rd, 2013
10:30 am

old teach posted, “If the student makes As on the tests, then the homework grade itself shouldn’t cause him to fail.”

Precisely. And if the student is making As on the tests without doing the homework, then why require the homework for that particular student at all? Why not assign homework that would be meaningful and extend the student’s learning? Why not go ahead and credit the student early when s/he can pass the final exam/EOCT and let him/her move on to the next subject in that content area sequence? #differentiation101

Answer: because it upsets the apple cart of scheduling, herding students into manageable birthday- and school calendar-based cohorts, and might, just might, eliminate the need for so many classroom-based teachers. #schoolsaredesignedforadultsnotkids

DeKalb Inside Out

January 23rd, 2013
10:45 am

Dr Henson
Can you give me your thoughts on a statewide or nationwide high school graduation test? Even if the bar was set at an 8th grade level, it would at least guarantee an 8th grade education for high school graduates and perhaps keep many from falling through the cracks.

I apologize if this topic has been covered already.

old teach

January 23rd, 2013
11:24 am

@ Dr. Henson:
You glossed over-or missed-my point entirely. I personally don’t know of a system where the homework is weighted so heavily as to cause a student to fail who makes A’s on the tests and has a poor-or terrible homework grade. The schools around me don’t allow the weighting to do that.

Dr. Monica Henson

January 23rd, 2013
2:33 pm

old teach, you’re correct, and I misspoke in my haste to squeeze in some blogging between actual work. ;) The situation I described should actually read, “he makes As on the tests, and it’s the homework grade that’s pulling his grade down (to a B, C, etc.).” You’re correct that schools nowadays are more strict on how much weight can be assigned to homework–for the precise reason I describe.

The point is the same, though.

Dr. Monica Henson

January 23rd, 2013
2:36 pm

DeKalb Inside Out, I think with Common Core we don’t really need a nationwide graduation test. States’ proficiency tests will be common assessments, so it will be possible to compare an A in Georgia to an A in Colorado, for example.

Without Common Core, I think a national graduation test would be a great idea, but it’s not politically feasible. Imagine trying to convince 50 different governors, legislatures, & state superintendents to participate. Public schooling has always been the purview of the state.

N. GA Teacher

January 23rd, 2013
10:58 pm

I have great resect for Dr. Henson, but what kind of great school does she work in? For most of us, the much greater problem than the A tester not doing all the busy work is the F tester refusing to do the work needed to internalize the concepts. The second major issue is kids who pass the class but FAIL the EOCTs!

Dr. Monica Henson

January 25th, 2013
1:00 am

N. GA Teacher, my school is filled with students whose demographics indicate that they would be pretty low achievers. 71% low-income, 61% minority, 16% special education. High mobility urban, and lots of rural poor. We aggressively recruit dropouts to return to high school, and I’ve got several teen parents, previously incarcerated youth, and previously expelled students. I also have a few really high flyers whose schedules for ice skating, equestrian training, etc., don’t permit them to be in a traditional school schedule. We have a lot of kids who have to be coaxed and encouraged to do their work, just like any other public high school, that’s for sure.

The “second major issue” you bring up, kids who pass the class but fail the EOCTs, is actually a teacher issue. The curriculum needs to be guaranteed & viable–if you pass the class, then you should be able to pass the EOCTs.

Dr. Monica Henson

January 25th, 2013
1:02 am

(Even with those demographics, 92% of my juniors scored proficient or higher on the Georgia High School Writing Test–a testament to the kids’ hard work and the instruction of my fantastic teachers!)