Competency-based learning (draft)
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is exploring alternatives that replace the traditional time-based educational system with a competency-based system. Competency-based learning (CBL) is an education practice that places the learner at the center. In February of 2022, DESE tasked a group of Missouri educators to lead the Success Ready Students Work Group (SRSWG) with identifying the key ingredients for successful implementation of competency-based education at state and local levels. The group met seven times to develop a set of recommendations that they presented to the State Board of Education in June 2022. The group spelled out five recommendations:
- Create a steering committee for policy development that supports competency-based learning.
- Create an Assessment Work Group to support DESE in the design/build of a future focused competency-based assessment for learning system (inclusive of federal requirements) that supports the findings in this study.
- Create Innovation Zones for the purpose of:
- engaging districts in collaborative work with DESE to design up reimagined assessment and accreditation systems;
- promoting use of competency-learning practices with students at the classroom, school and district levels; and,
- supporting development of regional collaboratives connecting preK-12, higher education and the business community.
- Expand capacity for Missouri school districts to engage students in Business to Education (B2E) opportunities.
- Model best practices in stakeholder involvement and effective communication in all engagement processes.
Work group facilitators have also launched the Success-Ready Students (SRS) Network to continue this important work.
See below for the key takeaways of the group's seven meetings:
- Session 1
The Success-Ready Students Work Group began its work with a welcome video from Missouri Commissioner of Education Dr. Margie Vandeven and opening comments from DESE Deputy Commissioner Dr. Tracy Hinds. Co-facilitator Dr. Mike Fulton then introduced co-facilitator Dr. Pam Hedgpeth along with co-chairs Dr. Matt Goodman and Dr. Jeremy Tucker (see speaker biographies here). Dr. Fulton then shared the purpose of the group is to develop a framework for competency-based learning in Missouri supported by redesign of the assessment and accreditation systems. The work group will use five essential questions to guide the study and planning phases, which will result in development of the framework.
Following this introduction, Dr. Hedgpeth engaged participants in activities on team building and visioning. Participants explored norms for their work around Roger Schwarz’s research connected to the eight mutual learning behaviors (video, slides). The group then discussed what it means for students to be success-ready through the lens of an Aurora Institute blog written by Chris Sturgis, “Readiness for College, Career, and Life: The Purpose for K-12 Public Education Today. Key themes emerged from the small group conversations around success-ready students.
The final portion of the meeting included presentations by Dr. Fulton, Competency-Based Learning in the Missouri Context (video, slides) along with national consultants Ray McNulty and Fred Bramante (see speaker biographies here). Ray McNulty’s presentation (video, slides) on Navigating a Shift in Direction addressed ways to think about engaging with the complexities of change systems change at the state and local levels. Fred Bramante built on that topic by providing unique insights on lessons learned from New Hampshire’s journey to support competency-based learning statewide (video, slides).
Following the presentations participants convened in break out rooms to discuss the question: Why should we build a framework for competency-based learning in Missouri?
- Session 2
The second session of DESE’s Success-Ready Students Work Group focused on the topic of designing up success-ready graduates. Co-facilitator Dr. Pam Hedgpeth began the meeting by asking participants to reflect on learning from Session 1. This included the challenge to use a future-focused lens to challenge assumptions in the current education system and design up a learning system that ensures every child has the foundation they need to be success-ready. She also brought the group back to concepts that were shared around customization for every child, how the “world” must become the classroom, and the essential connection of business and education.
This time of reflection was followed by group engagement with the following question: As we think about strengths and limitations of our current system, what ideas from Ray McNulty will be important for us to keep in the forefront, so that we can be successful with both local and state level changes? After some group sharing, co-facilitator Dr. Mike Fulton reminded participants of the five essential questions that guide the group’s work and emphasized the following points: 1) competency-based learning is not a program to be implemented; but rather, a mind-set used to design up learning in ways that support student success; and, 2) one uses a competency-based mindset to help solve complex learning problems, while being mindful of how external factors such as accreditation, accountability, and assessment systems impact that problem solving process.
The next part of the agenda involved a presentation led by Dr. Todd White and Dr. Jeremy Tucker on work the Kearney and Liberty School Districts are engaged in with real world learning (slides, video) (see speaker biographies here). Their presentation overviewed how both districts are using a competency-based mind-set to personalize a student’s educational experience. This mind-set includes making sure students are academically prepared as well as ensuring every high school student has at least one market value asset (MVA) when they graduate. The overview included insights on how they are proactively connecting with businesses to support the MVA process along with an example of a data dashboard used to communicate progress to the community. The presentation concluded with participants engaging with the following question in break out rooms: Reflecting on real world learning experiences described by Liberty and Kearney and those offered in your local public schools, what are some essential elements that might be important to consider in constructing a framework for competency-based learning? The breakout conversations resulted in these key ideas.
The second presentation (video, slides), provided by Laura Evans, Donna McDaniel and Dr. Bill Nicely, shared how Liberty and Kearney’s is supported by a regional Real World Learning (RWL) initiative. RWL, which is funded by the Kauffman Foundation, engages public high schools in the goal of having every student graduate with at least one MVA by the year 2030. The initiative currently involves 75 public high schools from 31 districts in Missouri and Kansas which represent a total population of 83,000 students in grades 9-12. The RWL initiative supports these high schools, which serve communities in rural, urban, and suburban settings, to design up MVA experiences for their students. The RWL initiative engages business partners to support the work and provides technical assistance that supports data collection and reporting.
The final presentation by Tom Vander Ark (video, bio) provided a national sweep of RWL and insight from other states that informs Missouri’s efforts. He began by identifying national and international trends in a shift of learning goals. This shift involves increased focus on skills that better prepare students for workplace readiness. Included in this shift is greater emphasis on engaging students in active learning and helping them develop entrepreneurial mind-sets. Connected to this shift is increasing focus by employers on skills-based hiring, which is reflected in the use of new credentialing approaches that ensure students are ready to enter specific careers. The changing landscape of credentialing is already shaping how high schools, post-secondary institutions, and businesses partners to ensure students have the skill sets they need for college, career, and workforce readiness. To support improvement efforts such as these, about half of the states are providing greater flexibility for public school districts by creating zones for innovation. Designed flexibility allows public school districts space to create new approaches to learning such as those found in the RWL initiative. Missouri currently does not have a flexible structure that supports public schools in designed innovation.
The session concluded with work group members participating in a Thoughtexchange discussion about the following question: In your opinion, what are some specific barriers that need to be rethought or removed to advance RWL? Results from the Thoughtexchange will be used in Session 3 to help process learning from Session 2 and provide a springboard for further study on what it means to be a success-ready student.
- Session 3
The third session of DESE’s Success-Ready Students Work Group focused on Design Up: Success-Ready Students. Co-facilitator Dr. Mike Fulton welcomed the group, linked work from Sessions 1 and 2 to Session 3’s content, and reviewed the five essential questions. Co-facilitator Dr. Pam Hedgpeth provided participants with an overview of the ThoughtExchange results with the slide deck from Session 2. In breakout rooms, small groups considered the feedback, how the comments were ranked, areas of common ground, and polarities in the data. Their discussions were shared out when participants returned to the large group.
Dr. Hedgpeth then introduced speakers for the first presentation.
Dr. Tim Pecoraro and Dr. Tina Plummer (slides, video) from the Pattonville School District led participants in learning and discussion about their district’s approach to implementing competency-based learning (CBL). Dr. Pecoraro provided historical context to the district's 20-year journey on using a CBL mind-set to improve student learning outcomes. Dr. Plummer provided an in-depth look at how Pattonville uses learning progressions to support students in their education. The district views the use of learning progressions as critical to meeting student academic needs and to help them successfully engage with meaningful, rigorous content that prepares them to be high school, college, and career ready. The presentation included a video featuring students and teachers describing how they use learning progressions in the instructional process. Midway through the presentation, participants took time to reflect on their learning in break-out rooms.
In the second presentation, Dr. Matt Goodman (slides, video, see speaker biographies here) transitioned discussion about learning, assessment, accreditation, and accountability from the local level to state and national contexts. He then provided information on federal and state accountability and assessment requirements that impact the behaviors of districts, including how they design comprehensive school improvement plans (e.g. District Strategic Plans).
Following a historical overview of Missouri’s approach to accreditation and assessment from the 1970s to 2022, Dr. Goodman provided a national sweep of innovative assessment designs. Five states, each with innovative assessment pilots approved by the U.S. Department of Education, are Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. In addition, 14 other states are pursuing innovative state assessment design outside the federal innovative assessment design authority. These designs include strategies such as instructionally embedded assessment, performance assessment, replacement of traditional graduation requirements, shared quality criteria, and test item banks for classroom use.
Dr. Goodman concluded this sharing with an overview of work by the Missouri Assessment Partnership (MOAP). Composed of 60 districts from around the state, MOAP came together with the belief that assessments for learning, when used effectively, can help put students on course for a meaningful life. MOAP created a framework for an assessment system that incorporates authentic evidence of student mastery, captures and honors student growth, and allows students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning within and across years to ensure readiness for high school course content and college/career readiness. MOAP’s design supports student learning, is intended to meet federal requirements, and has a strong focus on professional learning for educators. The model shares similarities with those in North Carolina, Georgia, and Nebraska.
Following Dr. Goodman’s presentation, participants engaged in a ThoughtExchange on the following question: What do you see as essential instructional practice and assessment components that must be included in a Missouri framework for CBL? Participants will review results in Session 4 and use discussion from the ThoughtExchange to inform the planning stage.
- Session 4
The fourth session of DESE’s Success-Ready Students Work Group focused on the topic, Designing-Up: Foundation and Framing. Dr. Pam Hedgpeth (co-facilitator) welcomed the group and provided a recap of Session 3. Dr. Mike Fulton (co-facilitator) followed by reviewing the work group’s charge, including the five essential questions. The presentation (video, slides) overviewed how to use a competency-based mindset to design a connected learning system that ensures students master the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need for success in life. In a competency-based learning system, design begins with the learner using system levers for improvement, including data and accountability, always focused on supporting students and their learning. The presentation was followed by participant discussion in breakout rooms.
Next, Dr. Hedgepeth overviewed (video, results) from Session 3’s ThoughtExchange question: What do you see as essential instructional practice and assessment components our Work Group must include in developing a Missouri framework for Competency-Based Learning? The data summary was followed by small group discussions in breakout rooms. Top thoughts and themes were reviewed with the whole group and then discussed in breakout rooms.
The main portion of the meeting was spent on developing a framework. Dr. Jeremy Tucker, co-chair, provided an overview (video, slides) of the Knoster Model. The Knoster model is an organizational change management tool that collaboratively engages people in work around five elements: vision, skills, incentives, resources, and plan. Addressing each of these elements positions an organization to engage in a design process that leads to enduring change and improvement.
Following this overview of the Knoster model, Dr. Tucker and Dr. Matt Goodman (co-chair) reviewed five categories that would be addressed to develop Missouri’s Competency-Based Learning framework: assessment for learning, professional learning design, policy, innovation, and accreditation/accountability. The five categories represent themes that emerged from previous studies/reports and address the five essential questions. The work group began with the assessment for learning category, identifying what is needed in each Knoster category to support students being success-ready. Work group members will continue this work in Sessions 5 and 6.
- Session 5
The fifth session of DESE’s Success-Ready Students Work Group (SRSWG) focused on the topic, Designing-Up: Framing. Dr. Mike Fulton (co-facilitator) welcomed the group and reviewed foundational elements of the work (video, slides), including: the five essential questions that guide the work, framework design tools, DESE’s multi-year timeline for new state assessment development, and ThoughtExchange results from the previous meeting.
Dr. Jeremy Tucker (co-chair) then led a walk through (video, slides) of themes that emerged from Session 4 break-out group work on Assessment for Learning. Themes were identified for four categories in the Knoster model: vision, skills, incentives, and resources. This set the stage for Dr. Pam Hedgpeth (co-facilitator) to lead participants on using the Knoster model and research on learning to address the Professional Learning Design element. Participants then spent considerable time in breakout rooms engaged in design work.
The meeting concluded with Dr. Matt Goodman (co-chair) and Mike Fulton overviewing concepts and resources related to the Knoster framework elements of policy, innovation, and accreditation/accountability (video, slides). While federal requirements and state statute give considerable flexibility in assessment and accreditation design, there are parameters required by federal law and state statute. Those parameters, along with information from previous studies/reports and learning from SRSWG study will inform development of specific language and planning for these elements.
Session 6 is being held in-person at the Stoney Creek Hotel in Columbia, Missouri. Facilitators and co-chairs will prepare materials in advance so work group members can focus on developing language for the framework and finalize recommendations. Effort will also be made to garner insights from various stakeholder groups using ThoughtExchange. Work from this final session will result in a report with recommendations to the Commissioner of Education on a framework for competency-based learning in Missouri supported by reimagined accreditation and assessment systems.
- Sessions 6 and 7
The sixth and final planned session of DESE’s Success-Ready Students Work Group (SRSWG) was held on May 4, 2022. Due to the need for extended planning time an additional (7th) virtual work session was added on May 18, 2022. The Success-Ready Students Work Group final report with recommendations and supporting materials is found here.
The May 4th meeting began with a welcome and overview of the day’s agenda by Dr. Mike Fulton. He then led the group in reflection on competency-based learning and reviewed key concepts (slides). This opening activity was followed by Dr. Pam Hedgpeth taking participants through a review of work from Session 5 on professional learning (slides) and sharing results from ThoughtExchanges done with Superintendents and SRSWG participants. The Thoughtexchange activity included conducting a barrier analysis, allowing participants to identify roadblocks to implementing competency based learning.
The remainder of the day was spent completing all sections of the Knoster Model for the five Focus Areas: Assessment for Learning, Professional Learning Design, Policy, Accreditation & Assessment, and Innovation Zone. The activities included reviewing information related to each Focus Area in small groups, led by expert facilitators. All ideas were captured in a shared document and were reported out and discussed by the whole group. The process was facilitated by Dr. Fulton and Dr. Hedgpeth along with Co-Chairs Dr. Matt Goodmanand Dr. Jeremy Tucker.The agenda of activities for the day included:
- Knoster action step development in small groups for Assessment for Learning and Professional Learning Design Focus Areas
- Whole group sharing, discussing and refining for Assessment for Learning and Professional Learning Design work products
- Overview of design work for Policy and Accreditation & Accountability Focus Areas
- Knoster Element design work conducted in small groups for Policy and Accreditation & Accountability Focus Areas
- Whole group sharing, discussing and refining for Policy and Accreditation & Accountability work products
- Knoster Element design work in small groups for Innovation Zone Focus Area
- Whole group sharing, discussing and refining Innovation Zone
The day concluded with an overview by Lisa Sireno regarding steps in DESE’s process as they engage with this work. Those steps include providing Commissioner Vandeven with SRSWG recommendations and presenting the report to the State Board of Education on June 14, 2022.
It was also shared with participants that while significant progress was made, additional time was needed to complete the work. A meeting extension was set for May 18 from 10-12 with the purpose of allowing Work Group participants an opportunity to provide feedback on a compilation of all of their work.
At the May 18, 2022 Zoom follow-up meeting, participants were welcomed and provided with an overview of work completed on May 4. Participants then spent time reviewing in small groups, the suggested action steps from all of the five Focus Areas: Assessment for Learning, Professional Learning Design, Policy, Accreditation & Accountability and Innovation Zone. After sharing with the whole group the feedback generated in the small group conversations, participants moved back into small groups to review the five suggested overarching recommendations and supporting action steps. These were determined by synthesizing all SRSWG ideas generated through the Knoster process. Small group participants then reported out the results of their discussions. This information, along with on-line feedback provided by participants who were unable to attend May 18, informed the final updating of the recommendations and action steps.