On May 23rd, the School Committee held a forum on Competency Based Education, an initiative undertaken by the Melrose Public Schools in partnership with Great Schools Partnership with funding support from the Barr Foundation. The panel included Dr. Margaret Adams, Asst. Supt for Teaching and Learning as well as two Melrose teachers and a representative from the Barr Foundation. (Warning: long blog post with lots of detail ahead!)
Competency Based Education (CBE) must start with clear expectations, five-eight things you can do regardless of the content area; skills that employers want students to have when they enter the workforce. Next layer is sub-skills. Layer below is learning objectives. Start with the end in mind and then plan down to the daily lesson.
Use assessments against the standard, not against other students (both formative and summative). Separate academic achievement from habits of work; important to evaluate both of them. Students should have “voice and choice” about how they’re achieving and demonstrating their skills. Habits of Learning (21st century skills) – patterns that will help them succeed as students and into the real world.
Process: visited high school, middle school, and elementary schools. Drafted understanding around what they want students to be able to do. Developed common framework for content areas.
Example in High School Art: what can we do that will benefit students? Ran half-year Intro to Art but wasn’t enough content to be able to progress right to Art I. Teachers developed a packet requirement (compilation of projects, writing piece, reflection on the work submitted). Six students tried and four succeeded; they went on to Photography or Drawing and Painting. The rubric is in the Program of Studies as a link. They have clear standards and expectations and allow students to show they can meet the standard.
Example in elementary ed.: best part was collaborating with K-12 vs. just elementary. What do we expect students to do by graduation? Teacher has done a lot of Understanding by Design and this was an organic process. What does it look like for Melrose? Started by drafting expectations for 12th grade, 8th grade, and then 5th grade. Some misconception that MA standards get lost in CBE standard, but they are truly embedded. Teachers also on the Curriculum Review Committee and every time they received feedback, they implemented suggestions. Parent groups and student groups contributed too.
Next Steps (summer of ‘17): develop draft scoring criteria for Habits of Learning and content areas for all except math and science. May continue the work into the fall and will ask teachers to start piloting with students. Then work on standards for math and science. Next school year: pilot and solicit feedback on scoring criteria, revise scoring criteria.
Q & A:
Q: Status? Visual and performing arts have all standards set; still working on scoring criteria (proficiencies). Global Languages should be there by late fall. Must have the top of the pyramid first and have to get much feedback. Need essential pieces vs. long/involved frameworks. This work is taking us to a conversation about “power standards” (philosophical and content-driven conversation among educators, e.g. should a child be able to do a research paper?). Other districts said to prepare for a five-year process.
Q: What timeline is expected and how to reach into elementary level? MA: in process of exploring and learning a lot. Biggest resource challenge is time. The process that Visual Arts has gone through informs other processes. Art may lend itself more to this concept. Rolling out Habits of Learning in Fall, 2017 because they are clearly important (citizenship, self-directed and lifelong learning) and can roll out at every level in pockets. Art and music in every level because they’d already had skill sets that were measures of proficiency (e.g. perspective in drawing). When you have early adopters in every building, they act as leaders and teachers/modelers for other teachers. We’ve converted to standard-based report cards at the elementary level. Whether a student has met or exceeded expectations is the measure of progress. If the district has done measurements correctly, what are we doing in planning/instruction to bring student to “exceeds” level? It’s been a very organic roll-out.
Q: What happens if the student doesn’t reach the expectation for the year in Habits of Learning? When building a system, think about timing (quarter, semester, etc.). Using this system, small number of things you’re aiming at and measure (e.g. setting deadlines). Student gets feedback on that. Have knowledge to move on re: content; but you get feedback on improvement on that habit and it will be easier to exceed the content. Student ownership using this model made it very powerful on visits. (Kids could say what they were working on and how their teachers showed them how they could get there.)
Q: Art curriculum: standards habits of learning? Rubric is very clear and students had to score a certain level. Better to reinforce what students already know vs. moving them on and setting them up to fail. Teacher made sure that they had quality materials. Emphasized perseverance and that students need to advocate and speak for themselves.
Q: Commend dedication to this concept. How are standards being rolled out? Thinking about sequences. State has good frameworks. Can we roll out standards at middle school and separate habits of learning and content? The arts have national standards already K-12. HS is probably more difficult: content knowledge that is already leveled, by virtue of the HS structure. What should kids know that exceeds the common body of knowledge? They were moving too fast with older students (who didn’t understand the ownership of learning). On visit, they wished they’d started ownership of learning before content so students would adopt them. Melrose team was able to agree on the skillsets and felt the content areas would fall into place more easily, and can get agreement on Habits.
Q: While beneficial what would students lose? Two obstacles: we know we have a segment of population who will never be proficient so what does mastery look like for them? Also, we know kids make mistakes but often there are other personal matters that interfere socially/emotionally/academically for those kids. There is nothing that says a student must do high school in four years; this approach allows going slower or faster based on mastery and guiding what you do. It’s particularly hard for parents to understand.
Q: See benefits for child with special needs. On visits, did you talk with SPED educators? Yes. Melrose is very clear that SPED students are entitled to access to general curriculum. Some kids need more intervention and some kids need less. They deserve it and have the right to it. Melrose is very clear about what it looks like. There are three states (NH, VT, Maine) that graduate with competency based achievement. Looking at more than one thing to demonstrate proficiency and how that balances with their needs on an IEP. Instructional time meant to gain knowledge to gain skills; that shift would happen at the assessment level.
Q: How presenting this to students and parents? Hope to have a gradual presentation. It’s dependent on how far we get, and will see what happens in the summer. Want to pilot with teachers and students and to make sure it’s really clear around expectations. Need as much feedback as possible. In the exploration phase now. This is not curriculum, but an approach to instruction and measuring success of learning, a shift in how we think about what happens in the classroom. Students measured in the placement test (math) for 7th grade on content proficiency. Occasionally there are kids who more than exceed in a content area even without habits of learning.
Q: This is a big change and in order to be successful, students have to be partners; is there a formal mechanism to get feedback from students? Second graders gave feedback on habits of learning. Educators then asked: who does it need to be clear to, 2nd graders or 5th graders?
Q: Ultimately how to measure success? Score proficient or beyond. Should we ask MHS graduates whether they were prepared? Hoping we have more formal way to do that in HS and below. Supt. amazed at the number of colleges that have adopted this approach. Also know that more and more colleges are accepting this approach as students apply. “Endorsement” by colleges (63 now); go to Great Schools Partnership to find the list and they are branching out across the country. (Endorsement doesn’t say better than something else, but it’s another way to assess to make a decision about admittance.)
Q: Need students to be partners as well as parents and community members. Supt. has conference this summer and they’ll come back and present again in fall to provide update. How to involve parents? Will know better after summer work and fall pilots (e.g. teacher’s packet project). Parent University keynote section last year and that was helpful. Info is being shared with PTO’s and some Site Councils. Everything should be subject to review and revision and there is much work to be done. Supt. re-emphasized that no four school visits were alike; it was personalized (rural, charter, upscale, etc.) and interesting to see how they’d adapted the framework.
Q: Reflects sea change in way we do education in Melrose. Best of thinking outside the box.
Q: Impact on homework policy in Elementary Handbook? Hadn’t been very consistent with homework policy. Redefined so it’s a span and working up to what would be expected by a middle school student. Emphasis will be on reading (to yourself, to your stuffed animals, etc.). Updated language based on Ch. 222 discipline (synched with secondary handbook). How to ensure teachers will follow? Up to building administrators to explain to parents. Handbook communicates to both parents and staff. Also, teachers were involved in the process of revamping of homework policy so they’ve had an opportunity to take a look plus consistency in meeting guidelines. Supt: opportunity to share common language around homework makes for more conversations around the purpose of homework, etc. How do you see a weekly packet aligning with new homework policy? The practice shouldn’t be discouraged but teachers need to know the students and that students can get through the packet successfully by the end of the week. Homework is designed to give practice, not teach new content. It should not be a “source of frustration, or tears, or tantrum.” If a student struggles to get through the homework, the parent should write a note because it will give the teacher helpful information about the teaching and learning. Allows for differentiation (extension, authentic, organic). Open houses in the fall are an opportunity to frame the homework message and set expectations. Every appropriate communication with parents should include this information as it rolls out. At early grades, partner reading is what students are doing in school and should be replicated at home. It will be posted on web site and paper flyer will go out saying that. Hardship or translation services will be provided. Sign-off for parents to indicate they know and understand the content.