Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Competency-Based Learning Model Coming to Melrose Schools?

On September 15th, Supt. Taymore introduced a concept for teaching and learning that is new to Melrose: competency-based learning. She declared her intention to bring a fuller presentation to the Committee and community on Tuesday, October 6th.  Please take a look at her report: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=2700 at 2.1.a. Here are some highlights:

What is the intention around Melrose education? The district wants to provide the best teaching and learning for each student, without categorizing or labeling them (e.g. “gifted,” “special education,” etc.).

What is offered now to address this concern? Things like grouping students according to ability and rotating them at the elementary level, or a middle school student could take a high school math course, or a high school student could get credit for a course by passing an exam. Supt. Taymore noted that each of these elements is being employed, but not necessarily consistently at every school and every grade level. It’s a work in process and consistently improving. MHS is implementing this best and the Middle School is getting there. But she wants to consider doing even more because she sees that teachers are working very hard in this area and developing significant skill that supports students in this way.

What would competency based learning mean for our students that is different from the way we do things now? Emphasize mastery vs. seat time, personalize learning (what you need, when and how you need it), and require demonstration of mastery of a subject or topic in the form of a tangible product or performance, etc. Students might move quickly through some topics and more slowly through others – but they progress at their own pace. If students can already show that they understand information, they should be able to move to the next topic or class or grade.

That makes sense, right? Why can’t we just implement this now? There are a lot of details to be figured out before proceeding. For example, the state requires 990 hours of high school time on learning. What if a student masters all the required content in less than that amount? Must all the time on learning hours be during the traditional school day (e.g. what if a student takes a class at Salem State at night – shouldn’t that count?) What if an elementary student has mastered all mathematics through grade 5 in January of that year – how does s/he access the 6th grade math curriculum when the middle school is across town?

Is this common in Massachusetts? No. Massachusetts, unlike many other states, has no policies around proficiency-based education, credit flexibility, or policies reflecting equivalents to "seat time." However, it's being done well in some places in New Hampshire and Supt. Taymore is looking to the Sanborn school district there for more information.

How do we talk about this and collectively learn more? The Committee voted to hold a public forum on this topic in late Oct. or sometime in November – please watch for it and participate! The Committee will listen to what the community and district have to say, and ultimately vote on 12/8 whether to proceed down this road. If proceeding is approved, the district would establish a task force to “explore model specifics, including logistics, legalities, instruction and curriculum needs, training needs, timetable, etc.”

Want to read more? Check out these sources recommended by the Superintendent: