Mastery Week: 13 Resources for Assessment in CBE Environments

Competency-based education (CBE, often also called mastery-based education) systems—those in which students “move on when ready” rather than “when the calendar or grade level says it’s time to”—hold the potential to create learning that is truly personalized and equitable for all students. By focusing on providing each student with the support they need, when they need it, to progress to their next step—whatever that step may be for them—our education system could better support more students in reaching their full potential.

However, we collectively still have a ways to go before this can become a reality—new forms of transcripts, new edtech tools, and new approaches and priorities for guidance are needed before many schools, districts and states will be able to face these challenges. On top of these logistical challenges lie many conceptual ones. What competencies should be prioritized? How can schools pressed for resources make this big shift effectively? What cultural aspects should leaders prioritize?

One fundamental question often at the front of this discussion is how to actually assess learning in competency-based environments. There has to be a way, but how? What measures and outcomes should be prioritized? What tools exist to measure them? This year, Springpoint’s annual Mastery Week focused on assessment, and the community came together to share out some great resources. Here, as a send off, we’ve compiled some new ones we’ve come across through Mastery Week, as well as some that we’ve seen around (or released ourselves) in the past that you may not have seen.

Resources for CBE Assessment

Buck Institute for Education Rubrics. BIE’s collection of rubrics are primarily targeted at PBL, but can provide some great food for thought in terms of thinking through the more nebulous aspects of measuring and tracking learning pathways when “traditional test scores” might not get the job done.

Building 21’s Learning What Matters Competency Framework. Building 21, a small new CBE network of schools (see Co-Founder Chip Linehan’s explanation of their approach), developed this framework with the Philadelphia school district. The framework includes competency maps and progressions that can serve as inspiration when thinking through assessments.

Mastery Week 2018: Two Best Practices for Crafting Mastery Assessments. This blog post, part of Mastery Week, highlighting two of reDesign’s main strategies for developing performance assessment in CBE environments: designing a common task frame aligned to a key competency, and beginning with the design of an engaging and relevant problem frame.

The “Show Me” Grading System of the Future. How do you report and assess on this kind of learning? What grade should individual students receive? Do students all receive a cumulative mark? Where is the place on the report card for the invaluable skills they gained in the process? Here, Getting Smart Columnist Kyle Wagner describes 5 steps to developing assessment of experiential learning.

How do you Design a System of Assessment in a Mastery-based Environment? This tool from 2Revolutions released during Mastery Week addresses many of the tricky questions, and can be used by an educator or a team to begin to develop a system for assessing mastery.

Helpful Tools for Providing Effective Competency-Based Education. This blog post highlights some of the best CBE-capable edtech in the areas of learning platforms/learning management systems, curriculum resources, and assessment/reporting.

ImBlaze: Igniting Powerful Real-World Learning Experiences. Getting Smart Columnist Erin Gohl here discusses Big Picture Learning’s internship and real-world learning LMS. “ImBlaze has made it possible for other schools to take internships to scale without increasing the burden,” she says. “The system empowers all parties to assess the quality and overall impact of individual internship and mentor experience, aggregate responses by participant descriptors, and enable analytics across placements and years.”

Guidelines for Assessment of Place-Based Learning. Place-based ed shares many characteristics with CBE, but places a special emphasis on connection to local environments and communities. Here, Gillian Judson shares 8 guidelines for developing assessment in place-based education.

Thought Pieces and Case Studies

A New Model of Student Assessment for the 21st Century. This case study from American Youth Policy Forum challenges long-established practices and offers districts possibilities for improving secondary education outcomes by rethinking their understanding of academic success and transforming the structure and tracking of student achievement. “Hundred-year-old structural mechanisms designed to draw academic distinctions among students have become powerful structural barriers to academic achievement for a significant number of students in today’s urban high schools,” the brief argues.

The Future of Testing. Our current model of testing persists precisely because it so effectively delivers on machine-age promises of reliability and efficiency at a large scale. But these benefits come at a cost: the fixed content and rigid testing conditions severely constrain the skills and knowledge that can be assessed. Here, Getting Smart Columnist William Bryant looks at how those dynamics could change.

The Role of Assessment in a Learning Culture. This paper explores “the type of assessment that can be used as a part of instruction to support and enhance learning.”

Creating Systems of Assessment for Deeper Learning. “New systems of curriculum, assessment, and accountability will be needed to ensure that students are given the opportunities to learn what they need to be truly ready to succeed in college and careers,” argues this report from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. The report explores systems and structures that support assessment of deeper learning and broader competencies than those traditionally measured in academics.

Evidence That Makes it Evident: Improving Assessment by Emulating the Trades. Elliot Washor and Chaz Mojkowski of Big Picture Learning share insights into their process for designing high-quality assessment metrics and processes based on real-world competency-based environments.

We’ve got a lot to digest after this week of learning about mastery assessment, and will be looking forward to joining again next year to continue learning from—and sharing with—the Mastery Week community.

And for more general competency-based education resources, see:


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Supporting Teachers in the Digital Age

By Gov. Bev Perdue.

We know that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other school-related factor, including services, facilities and leadership. Yet for years we’ve forced teachers to work in a system that values testing over teaching, resulting in little to no change in student achievement.

Now, our nation is facing a teacher shortage that is only going to get worse. Add to that the fact that nearly 50 percent of teachers currently in classrooms will retire or leave the profession within the next five to seven years, and it becomes very clear we need to refocus our efforts on supporting teachers and encouraging them to becoming leaders inside the classroom and out.

At digiLEARN, we’ve met, surveyed and spoken with more than 1,300 teachers about what they need to thrive in their profession, and we’ve heard over and over that teachers do not feel their voice is represented when it comes to education policy, despite the fact that they want to be included alongside administrators and policymakers in the decision-making process.

On top of what we’ve learned at digiLEARN, there’s an abundance of national research that shows that teachers want their voices heard, but they do not feel their perspective is represented, especially at the state and federal level. Teachers also want to lead while remaining in the classroom, but they don’t feel there are enough opportunities to do so.

Teachers know the stakes are incredibly high, which is why they were willing to take to the streets in protest this spring and are considering more protests this fall. Thanks to the diversity and complexity of technology, teachers must prepare the majority of their students today for careers that don’t yet exist, which means teachers need the skills to effectively develop the higher order thinking skills their students will need for college and their careers. That’s a tough challenge, and it’s one that requires policymakers and district leaders to lift up and support teachers to allow them to effectively guide our students and future workforce.

We can do this in two ways:

  • Offer professional development opportunities that allow teachers to learn and grow while remaining in the classroom. Teachers need meaningful professional development opportunities that give them the skills to explore new teaching practices without fear of failure, and they need the chance to learn and lead while continuing to teach. That’s why I’m particularly excited about digiLEARN’s Digital Scholars Initiative, a unique program that offers teachers invaluable leadership roles at their school and district levels while remaining practicing classroom teachers. Digital Scholars receive release time, personalized professional development and extended employment so they can learn how to lead other educators and use their classrooms as learning labs for other teachers to observe and learn new instructional practices. After a successful pilot with Rowan-Salisbury Schools in North Carolina and an upcoming pilot in Durham, North Carolina, digiLEARN will begin expanding the program nationally, and I encourage district leaders to consider the opportunity.
  • Empower teachers to lead. Teachers are on the front lines with their students. They know what their students need and how they best learn. Therefore, it’s no surprise that students perform better when they have empowered teachers, especially when teachers play a significant role in school improvement planning. Empowered teachers are also more likely to stay at their school and in the profession. In fact, the most important factor determining whether a teacher will stay at a school is whether he or she feels part of a productive, meaningful community where teacher voices are heard and teacher input is used to inform school practices and policies. Beyond the school building, I urge policymakers and district leaders to seek to actively include teachers in policy conversation and creation, so the policies we make at a school, district, state and federal level are based on knowledge from and collaboration with those who are working directly with students.

As a former teacher and policymaker who now works with educators across the country, I’ve spent my career advocating for teachers. I believe now more than ever, we must listen to our teachers, empower them to lead and give them the resources and professional development they need. Because an investment in teachers is an investment in our students, and our future depends on it.

Former North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue is the co-founder of digiLEARN, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating digital learning for all ages with the goal of increasing personal learning options for students and expanding instructional opportunities for teachers and instructors.

For more, see:


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Building and Leveraging Networks to Scale Innovation in School Districts

A recent report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) summarized lessons from two Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiatives, the Next Generation Systems Initiative and the Regional Funds for Breakthrough Schools Initiative.

The next-gen systems grantees included Dallas ISD, Denver PS, Henry County PS, Lake County PS,  Pinellas County PS, Riverside USD.

Regional Funds associated with the Next Generation Learning Challenges include CityBridge in Washington, D.C., Colorado Education Initiative, Great Schools Partnership in New England, LEAP Innovations in Chicago, New Schools for New Orleans, and Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland.

The goal of the program was to support the development of personal learning pathways and profiles in flexible learning environments.

CRPE spent two years interviewing 450 educators in 39 schools in 17 cities. They asked educators how they attempted to personalize learning and they investigated how policies supported or impeded innovation.

The experiences of the schools in the Gates Foundation’s personalized learning initiatives followed a familiar pattern of promising practices struggling to replicate at scale across systems. The first few years of the initiative underscore the difficulty of innovating inside a system that was never designed for innovation.

The lessons from the initiative suggest that leaders must do four important things to build a more strategic system to support innovation at scale:

1.Set goals. Districts must help leaders and teachers in schools get clear on the problems that need to be solved and setting clear goals to focus innovation.

2. Create flexibility. Districts must create flexibility in the system, at both the school and classroom levels, clarifying exiting flexibility, granting more flexibility to broader aims,  and creating space to innovate: out of school, pilots, and zones.

3. Develop talent. Districts must build support for professional learning by embedding coaching, creating change management supports, and supporting knowledge sharing.

4. Build networks. Districts must identify which principals and faculties are positioned to design new models for instruction and which are positioned to adopt and adapt existing innovative practice. Design competitions can help identify new learning models. Districts should also be looking outside to local network partners that are poised for innovation and collaboration.

The report recommends that districts “find ways to support more innovation and experimentation.”

Check out the microsite or the full report.

For more, see:


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Project-Based Learning and the Performing Arts: A Match Made in Heaven

By Mary Ryerse and Emily Liebtag

The best projects—those that truly engage students in high quality experiences that are authentic and require a public product—often incorporate the visual or performing arts.

Time and time again, we have seen project-based learning (PBL) schools integrate the visual and/or performing arts into the project processes or products. Just a few examples include:

We acknowledge that not all students may initially believe they are artistically inclined, but once they engage in some form of artistic expression—be it performance, visual representation or interpretation—they often surprise themselves and others by tapping into another level of depth and understanding in their projects.

Student Composer and Conductor

One of the coolest examples of PBL and the arts that we’ve seen recently took place at a high school choir concert, and was the manifestation of a student’s desire to go deeper, express herself further, and engage her classmates more.

Aashna Ray, now a junior at East Ridge High School (MN) created a vision, composed a song, taught it to her classmates, and then conducted the choir during a school concert. It all began with a small idea that Aashna shared with her choir director, Liz Gullick. Mrs. Gullick reflected on the process, “It was cool how organic the process was. It started with Aashna coming to me and asking if she could teach our choir a brief phrase from her culture. After singing just one phrase, the class responded really positively and it continued to grow from there into a full song.”

The first phrase Aashna taught became the title of her song: “Aavya Amra Hraday Ma Aavya,” which translates from Gujarati to English as:

“You have come into our hearts”

Photo by: George May

Collaboration and Teacher Support is Key

While Aashna did much of the writing of the music and lyrics on her own, this was certainly a collaborative—and iterative—process. Over the course of several months, she tested the tune and the words out with her classmates. She engaged them in providing accompaniment, solo opportunities, and feedback.

One of the most amazing things about high quality PBL is that, particularly when there is a teacher who meets students with enthusiasm and support (as Mrs. Gullick did), everyone learns. The power of an open and supportive teacher can’t be underestimated.

As you’ll read below, Aashna learned a ton herself. Equally as important, her classmates learned and were inspired as well. Mrs. Gullick reflected on the positive impact on classroom culture, “When students see a peer doing something ‘next level,’ it inspires everyone.”

Learning through the Process

To continue to draw connections to PBL, Aashna not only created an amazing product, she learned throughout the entire project process. Reflecting on her learnings, Aashna said, “From the day I started to write the song to the day of the performance, I learned so much!” She continued, “I learned the importance of patience, the importance of hard work and the importance of faith. I had to have faith in myself (that I knew what I was doing), in my classmates, and in my guru, Mahant Swami Maharaj, who inspired me to write this song in the first place.”

The public nature of these performances engages students, provides them real-world feedback, and brings incredible authenticity that inspires communities.

Aashna concludes by saying, “This was an incredible experience, and I am so grateful to even been given such an opportunity!”

For more, see:


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Amber Chandler Named 2018 National Educator of the Year

Last week one of Getting Smart’s teacher bloggers, Amber Chandler, was named the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) 2018 Educator of the Year. The award, supported by the AMLE Foundation Fund, “recognizes outstanding practitioners in middle level education—those who have made a significant impact on the lives of young adolescents through exemplary leadership, vision, and advocacy.”

For the past 3 years she has been able to provide insight into topics such as social-emotional learning (SEL), project-based learning (PBL), and even creating “escape room”-esque puzzle experiences in her classroom. To say we are excited for her would be an understatement, so from all of us at Getting Smart, congratulations Amber!

“As the facilitator of my student’s learning, I do need to retain ownership of some aspects of their learning, but if I am to truly create writers who write things that the world will want to read, I’ve got to open the world up to them.”

Interested in more amazing quotes like the one above? Make sure to check out some of Amber’s most popular best posts:

We look forward to seeing what Amber does next!


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Human Development as Professional Development: Fostering District-Wide Well Being

“I thought I was okay, but I wasn’t sleeping.”

“I’ve been lashing out at those around me.”

“I felt like I was handling things really well, but I didn’t realize I’d stopped smiling.”

“I had so much trouble saying goodbye to last year’s class because we were bonded in a way that only trauma can forge.”

These reflections were shared by educators and parents from Broward County, Florida this past summer. This was the first summer break following an unimaginable tragedy on Valentine’s Day of this year when seventeen students, teachers, and staff perished at the hands of a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD). The teachers, students, administrators, support staff, and parents from MSD, and the broader Broward community, ended the school year with many layers of conflicting emotions: devastation, anger, sadness, uncertainty, distress. In short, the community was traumatized. As an educator from MSD noted about the broader district, “Every person attached to a child or a school in our vicinity experienced a trauma. Not only at Stoneman Douglas, but at other schools, too, as this made everyone realize that this kind of tragedy could happen to you.”

In the wake of this kind of collective trauma, how does a school district systematically support all the various individual experiences and reactions? How does any public agency, which has a dedicated purpose, respond to a transcendent, all-encompassing community need? This tragedy happened in a school–an institution of public investment in the future. How does a school system begin to focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic, when a fourth “R” of recovery predominates?

A Different Kind of Professional Development

Traditional professional trainings and support for educators do not include efforts that address the human impact of loss, grieving, trauma, stress, and the search for meaning after this kind of event. Working on one’s own mind and body to support a community’s health and safety is a different form of learning than an educator’s usual summer options of standards, instructional materials, and pedagogy or the emergency management trainings covering See Something, Say Something, CPR, and Code Red drills. Most districts are not equipped with this kind of expertise. And, this work is difficult to mandate to success.

In speaking with other communities that have been impacted by school shooting tragedies, Broward district personnel were reminded that sustained efforts to heal would be required. This effort would need to sew together resources from the immediate community, the broader regional community, and national resources and expertise. Enter the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

The Center for Mind-Body Medicine

The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) works with individuals who are frontline community service providers–those people in a community that help to take care of the community. They describe their work as follows: “We train local healthcare providers, educators, and community leaders to teach children and adults simple, powerful self-care techniques that help relieve their stress and trauma. We help people and communities heal.”

Their model is based on self-care of the service providers, by the service providers. The logic model is straightforward-–self-care cannot be given by those in duress, and healing is best promoted by those that are healing themselves. It is straightforward, but not simple. Self-care has historically not been a field that has scientific studies and technical expertise as an underpinning. CMBM has brought the discipline of modern medicine and techniques from healing traditions to establish “the world’s largest, most effective evidence-based program for healing population-wide psychological trauma and stress.”

The CMBM was created and has been led by James S. Gordon, MD since 1991. He is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Georgetown Medical School. The CMBM works both extensively in the United States and globally.  Domestic projects have included working with communities that have experienced loss from natural disasters  (post-Katrina New Orleans, post-Harvey Houston, post-Sandy NJ-NY-CT, post-fire Sonoma County), protracted and systemic trauma (the Pine Ridge and Standing Rock Reservations, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their families), and the senseless occurance of school shootings.

To establish the importance of this kind of training and to maximize participation in this work, educators received compensation and professional development learning credits for initial or recertification. Broward County Public Schools covered these costs. Support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) provided the funding to bring CMBM faculty and services to Broward for three phases of work:

  1. The first ten weeks after the tragedy focused on bringing together school and community members in the Spring of 2018;
  2. Trainings for school and community members in initial CMBM and advanced CMBM work during July of 2018; and
  3. Working with the teachers, administrators, and other staff at MSD and the feeder middle school that is co-located on the same property during the week before students returned in August of 2018.

Self-Care Strategies for Educators & Students

The cornerstone of the CMBM approach is that “self-care isn’t complementary or alternative — it’s fundamental for good health.” Their work and trainings focus on teaching participants strategies and techniques to first, help themselves engage in their own self-care, and then, in turn, teach peers and students how to engage in these kinds of behaviors. This approach begins by acknowledging that thoughts and emotions occur within the body, in all people. There are connections between how the body functions, what we feel, and how we think, that involve numerous physiological feedback loops. By intentionally settling the mind to relax the body, emotions are allowed to occur and dissipate.

The strategies are simple and research-based. Nancy Romer, a Broward County elementary teacher, described the program: “CMBM gave us a toolbox of many strategies to deal with our past pain, ward of new ones, or deal with them if we cannot avoid them. It was affirming that research and medical practice have shown the benefits of shaking, dancing, breathing meditation, yoga, and mindfulness to our overall physical and emotional health–and that we can bring those benefits to our students.” Some of these strategies and techniques include:

  • Small Group Sharing: Stress and trauma can often leave a person feeling isolated with their emotions and responses. By creating a small group of 10 to 15 individuals who can share experiences, responses, and feelings, participants feel connected and supported. The leader, who is also a group participant, establishes that the group is a safe and trusting environment. One teacher reflecting on her own small group experience explained that “It is a wonderful tool to help us deal with what we have to deal with. We realized we’re all in this together. We can lean on each other.” Another observed that this helps students know and understand that “they are not alone in what they are feeling.”
  • Soft Belly Breathing: This is simply slow, deep breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth, with your belly relaxed. This kind of breathing quiets the mind, and allows individuals who feel stressed or overwhelmed the ability to feel calm, to connect with others around them more easily, and to be more present. One educator who participated noted: “I now breathe differently. When things get stressful, I slow it down and find that space to breathe.”
  • Imagery: Participants, whether students or adults, are encouraged to imagine a safe or special place, real or imagined, where they feel comfortable. They are encouraged to breathe deeply as they are prompted to imagine and note various details (e.g., what are they wearing; sounds they might hear; how old they are; the temperature; and whether anyone else is there) as they think about this setting. This practice fosters relaxation, reduces stress and anxiety, and provides an emotional “safety net” for them to retreat to when they feel stress or anxiety.
  • Movement, Dance, & Shaking: Movement–including dancing and shaking–releases tension, raises energy, and disrupts physical and emotional states in which one may be stuck. Participants are encouraged to move and dance to music in whatever way feels right for them. A teacher from MSD noted that “Every school day should start with dancing and movement. It doesn’t take long and gets things going, allowing kids to move pent up energy out of their bodies.”
  • Meditative Practices: There are a wide variety of meditative practices that have emerged in cultures around the world. Western traditions often associate these behaviors with religious practice. Embracing the medical benefits of meditation, CMBM encourages mindfulness as a practice, and invites participants to draw on a tradition of meaning to them, or to develop their own meditative practice. A student participant from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School stated, “This experience made me feel liberated from my worry. It allowed me to focus on the present.” An educator from the school summed up the effect nicely, “This is all helping me get back to me.”

On-Going Self-Care: Fundamental for ALL Educators, Students, & Families

Though much of their work centers around trauma and disaster response, CMBM sees their mission as universal. They, and many of those who have undergone their training, agree that all students, teachers, and families can benefit from learning and practicing these behaviors of self-care. When Dr. Gordon founded the organization nearly three decades ago, his vision was to make “self-awareness, self-care, and group support central to all healthcare, the training of all healthcare professionals, and the education of all our children.” He explains that the techniques and approaches CMBM teaches are really basic to how human beings function and interact: “This should be in every school. This is fundamental, not alternative or complementary.”

This training and the utilization of these strategies should be common practice, proactive, and ongoing if schools are going to address whole child and comprehensive adult development. Educating students, teachers, and parents on how to understand their emotional responses to life events, and how to productively cope with those emotions, can both prevent crisis and promote healthy development. Amy Kenny, an educator and yoga teacher who brought a full-time yoga program to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School two years ago, explains: “There are many levels to trauma and stress. There are stress and trauma in homes, in schools, and in neighborhoods. All of us have some degree of trauma and stress, whether it’s big or small. If there were a way that every student could work through and understand stress and trauma, from as young as preschool, and learn the skills to productively process it so it doesn’t build up, continue, or progress, then it would never duplicate. Imagine what a healthier society we would live in.” This course offering has grown to enroll over 300 MSD students taking yoga and mindfulness each semester as an elective PE credit. By utilizing the techniques and strategies learned in these courses, many of the students have reported lower levels of anxiety and improved stress management, both before and after the shooting.

And to maximize these kinds of benefits, buy-in and practice of self-care behaviors must be systemic. Gordon explains, “Where we’ve had the greatest success in our work is where we’ve been able to work with everyone in an institution–all the teachers, staff, kids, and parents–the whole community. Everyone is then creating this opportunity for being yourself, and for using techniques for dealing with stress.”

This can be most difficult for teachers, themselves. Teachers, as a group, spend their days thinking about and helping others–their students. Focusing on oneself can feel selfish or frivolous. A Broward County educator who completed the CMBM training was astonished to realize, “I’ve been an educator for more than two decades, but this is the first time I’m focusing on me and my own self-care. I didn’t realize I needed to.” It should not require an intense trauma to facilitate self-care. CMBM emphasizes, though, that self-care is not a skill you can teach unless you are also engaging in it yourself. One teacher noted, “I realized I need to make sure I’m okay before I can be there for my students.”  And this is true for all educators and must be regularly re-visited.

Looking Forward

The tragedy that happened in Parkland, FL this past February is horrific. But, survivors, and the broader community, are striving to make meaning of their response to the tragedy. For some, the meaning is an attempt to return to their routines from a world prior to the shooting. And others are working to improve the quality of how they live today. CMBM is helping people be calmer, grounded, and more mindful individuals. CMBM is providing tools, behaviors, and habits for participants who want to turn aspiration into living–who want to live as the kind of person they wished lived in the world. They are sharing tools that all people can use to be healthier and happier.

Teacher Nancy Romer connected the experience to outcomes most educators strive for every day: “I think that if we can incorporate these strategies into our teaching day, we will see better behavior in our classrooms, happier kids, higher academic achievement, and overall healthier communities.” Broward County Public Schools and CMBM are providing professional development needed for teachers throughout the community to be most effective and students to maximize learning and healthy living–for a lifetime of productive human development. They are aiming to be a model for all districts; not just those healing from tragedy.

For more, see:


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Back to School in El Paso: District and New Tech Expand Partnership

On the first day of school we followed El Paso Superintendent Juan Cabrera on school visits including several of the nine EPISD schools that belong to the New Tech Network.

Young Women’s Academy

As a second year middle school, the Young Women’s STEAM Research & Preparatory Academy is alive with ideas. EPISD board member, Mickey Loweree, appreciates how girls empower each other. She said her daughter Marlow is thriving at Young Women’s and that all the girls are more likely to dive into a tough STEM problem in the single gender environment.

“They jump in and lead,” added Loweree. “They don’t worry about what they look like.”

EPISD Board member Mickey Loweree and Principal Cynthia Ontiveros

Young Women’s is the first single-gender academy in the New Tech Network. It will become a 6-12 school as the middle school it shares the building with is phased out.

The New Tech model features integrated team-taught project-based blocks. In preparation for opening a New Tech school, EPISD takes down walls and creates combined classrooms. Glass walls (see above) add natural light and transparency to the environment.

First day students work on cultural norms at Young Women’s Academy

Brown New Tech

On the first day of school, the Cheer Squad met new students at the door of Brown New Tech. While the principal met with parents, students started the day (as they do every day) in circle time where teachers check in with learners and reinforce shared norms: share the air, actively participate, challenge your comfort zone, use meaningful communication, be supportive and respectful, show pride.

7th graders start day one in Circle Time with Mr. Limon

In its third year as a member of the New Tech Network, Brown teachers are skilled project facilitators. On the first day of school, sixth graders (below) were already preparing for an integrated  science and art project using new Macbooks. The district’s 1:1 initiative, Power Up, which started in high school, added middle schools this year.

Hart New Tech

Starting with grades 3-5, Hart New Tech became the first is first dual-language school in the  New Tech Network and just the second New Tech elementary in Texas.

Dual language programs are available K-5 in all 58 El Paso elementaries and in nine middle schools and six high schools. A unique competency-based partnership with UTEP supports the district’s expansion of dual language learning opportunities.

Hart Principal Angelica Negrete (below) said teachers appreciated the chance to visit other New Tech Elementaries including Katherine Smith in San Jose and Napa Junction near Napa. They also visited Manor New Tech near Austin and nex+Gen Academy in Albuquerque.

Hart New Tech Principal Angelica Negrete and Superintendent Juan Cabrera

East of downtown El Paso in a lower income Hispanic community, Hart New Tech sits on the Mexican border and next to Guillen Middle and Bowie High School, also members of the New Tech Network (just the sixth K-12 New Tech feeder pattern in the country). Some students walk across the border every day to attend the three schools.

The New Tech approach has its advantages for dual language students when learning a second language said Scott Gray, New Tech Network coordinator for EPISD. Students with varying abilities in English and Spanish work collaboratively to learn and build their language capacities.

“They tend to succeed because they’re building context,” Gray added. “They are taking ownership of their learning and tying what they’re learning to real world problems and solutions.”

Gray works closely with EPISD’s nine New Tech campuses and has been tracking data that shows New Tech students tend to outperform their traditional classroom peers nationally and within EPISD. He also said attendance rates are dramatically higher for students in New Tech programs.

Oso New Tech

In its third year, Oso New Tech serves 9th, 10th, and 11th graders on the Bowie campus.

Celeste Cano (@celestecano0422) teaches Algebra, one class not in an integrated block. It is taught as problem-based course where tasks are one or two days rather than two or three weeks. In the first two years of the school, Oso algebra results were the best in the district.

Skeptical at first, art teacher Mauricio Olague heard about teaching integrated projects at Oso New Tech at Bowie High and decided to give it a try. He teaches a unique art and biology mash up and loves the new challenge of team teaching. As a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, he sees this high engagement approach motivating students and preparing them for what lies ahead. (listen to Olague and Cano describe their first two years in this podcast).

In their first three few years, New Tech schools in El Paso have achieved district leading academic results. They exemplify the “ active learning” at the heart of the district’s strategy. They have rejuvenated teacher’s careers and created quality options for families across the city. It looks like they are off to a good start for the new school year.

For more, see:


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20 Ways Blockchain Will Transform (OK, May Improve) Education

Blockchain is a public ledger that automatically records and verifies transactions. The distributed ledger technology (DLT) powers Bitcoin, Ethereum and other virtual currencies (which have taken a beating this month). Less publicized are all the ways DLT could transform many industries. Use cases for a transparent, verifiable register of transaction data are numerous because DLT operates through a decentralized platform making it fraud resistant.

With assistance from Educause and CB Insights, we’ve identified 26 ways that DLT could be deployed by school districts, networks, postsecondary institutions and community-based organizations to improve learning opportunities.

1. Transcripts. Academic credentials must be universally recognized and verifiable. In K-12 and postsecondary, verifying academic credentials remains largely a manual process (heavy on paper documentation and case-by-case checking). DLT solutions could streamline verification procedures and reduce fraudulent claims of unearned educational credits.

Learning Machine, a 10-year-old software startup, has collaborated with MIT Media Lab to launch of the Blockcerts toolset, which provides an open infrastructure for creating, issuing, viewing and verifying blockchain-based certificates.

Matt Pittinsky, CEO of transcript service Parchment, said there’s a lot of design decisions to work out before widespread use of DLT transcripts. He thinks blockchain will store locations to systems that that record comprehensive records–a balance between permanence and portability.

2. Badges. Specific skill assertions can be verified and communicated with a digital badge. Multiple badges can be assembled into an open badge passport that students can share with prospective employers.

Indorse is using blockchain to verify e-portfolios. Users upload claims with a link to verification and other users verify that claim.

3. Student records. Sony Global Education developed a educational platform in partnership with IBM that uses blockchain to secure and share student records.

Storing an comprehensive learner record on a distributed ledger may prove computationally intensive and, as a result, prohibitively expensive. As Pittinsky predicted, DLT may just be used as a directory rather than a data warehouse.

4. Identity. With the proliferation of learning apps and services, identity management is a big problem in education. Platforms like Blockstack and uPort help users carry their identity with around the internet. On Blockstack, users will access apps on decentralized networks and have data portability.

5. Infrastructure security. As schools add more security cameras and sensors, they need to protect their networks from hackers. Companies like Xage are using blockchain’s tamper-proof ledgers to sharing security data across device networks.

6. Ridesharing. Blockchain could inject new options into the rideshare oligopoly. With a distributed ledger, drivers and riders could create a more user-driven, value-oriented marketplace. DLT rideshare startup Arcade City allows drivers to establish their rates (taking a percentage of rider fares) with the blockchain logging all interactions. Arcade City appeals to professional drivers, who want to build up their own businesses than be controlled from a corporate headquarters.

School districts could negotiate with a group of screened Arcade City drivers for hard to serve aspects of pupil transportation (e.g., special needs, isolated students, work-based learning).

7.Cloud storage. As learners and education institutions store more data, DLT cloud storage could offer safer and potentially cheaper alternatives. Dubbed the “Airbnb for file storage,” Filecoin is a high-profile crypto project that rewards the hosting of files.

8. Energy management. For educational institutions with renewable energy sources, DLT could reduce the need for intermediaries. Brooklyn startup Transactive Grid enables decentralized energy generation schemes allowing entities to generate, buy, and sell energy to their neighbors.

9. Prepaid cards. Blockchains can help retailers offer secure gift cards and loyalty programs without a middleman. Gyft, an online platform for buying, sending, and redeeming gift cards, partnered with blockchain infrastructure provider Chain to run gift cards for thousands of small businesses on the blockchain, in a program called Gyft Block. Loyyal makes loyalty incentives easily exchangeable across different sectors.

Prepaid cards could be used by cities, schools, and families to purchase out of school learning experiences (e.g., an LRNG card) and associated transportation (#7).

10. Smart contracts. DLT can be used to automatically execute agreements once a set of specified conditions are met. These “smart contracts” have the potential to reduce paperwork in many sector including education.

Woolf University, formed by Oxford professors, will use DLT to execute smart contracts. A series of student and teacher “check-ins” are key to executing a series of smart contracts that validate attendance and assignment completion. A check-in could be a simple as clicking a button on a phone app but it executes a smart contract that pays the teacher and provides micro-credits to the student.

DLT could facilitate distributed learning skemes. A state or institution could fund a student’s account using blockchain-based smart contracts and and provide all the funding up-front. The smart contracts would release it when certain criteria are met. (There’s obviously a lot of policy to figure out: desirable experiences and skill verifications, eligible providers, terms and conditions, etc.)

11. Learning marketplace. The core competency of DLT is eliminating the middleman. It will be deployed to create various learning marketplaces from test prep to surfing school.

TeachMePlease is Russian pilot on the Disciplina platform where teachers and students come together. It helps students find and pay for courses, registered by educational organizations or teachers. Woolf (#16) is an example of a new higher ed marketplace.

12. Records management. DLT could reduce paper-based processes, minimize fraud, and increase accountability between authorities and those they serve. An early example, the Delaware Blockchain Initiative, aims to create an appropriate legal infrastructure for distributed ledger shares, to increase efficiency and speed of incorporation services. Illinois, Vermont, and other states have since announced similar initiatives. Startups are assisting in the effort as well: in Eastern Europe, the BitFury Group is currently working with the Georgian government to secure and track government records.

13. Retail. DLT could securely connect buyers and sellers in marketplaces.For example,  OpenBazaar operates as an open-source, peer-to-peer network that connects buyers and sellers without a middleman. Customers purchase goods using any of 50 cryptocurrencies and sellers are paid in Bitcoin.

DLT could be used to power school stores and student businesses. In some cases, a global network would be attractive, but in others, a permissioned (private) ledger could limit the scope of a school economy.

14. Charity. For charitable donations, DLT provides the ability to precisely track donations and, in some cases, impact. For example, GiveTrack, from the BitGive Foundation, is a blockchain-based donation platform that provides the ability to transfer, track, and provide a permanent record of charitable financial transactions across the globe.

Donors to schools and NGOs may find accountability and transparency attractive.

15. Human resources. Conducting background checks and verifying employment histories can be time-consuming, highly manual tasks for HR professionals. If employment and criminal records were stored in DLT, HR professionals could streamline the vetting process and move hiring processes forward more quickly.

Chronobank is focused on improving short-term recruitment for on-demand jobs (e.g., cleaning, warehousing, e-commerce). The startup aims to use blockchain to make it easier for individuals to find work on the fly and be rewarded for their labor through a decentralized framework via cryptocurrency, without the involvement of traditional financial institutions.

Schools could use similar capabilities in substitute and driver management and for a marketplace of afterschool and summer activities.

16. Governance. The benefits of using blockchain for smart contracts and verifiable transactions can also be applied toward making business accounting more transparent. The Boardroom app, for example, provides a governance framework and app enabling companies to manage smart contracts on the public and permissioned Ethereum blockchains.

The app provides an administrative system for organizations to ensure smart contracts are executed according to rules encoded on the blockchain (or to update the rules themselves). Boards can also use the app for shareholder voting by proxy and collaborative proposal management.

17. Libraries. DLT could help libraries expand their services by building an enhanced metadata archive, developing a protocol for supporting community-based collections, and facilitating more effective management of digital rights. San Jose State’s School of Information received a $100K grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to fund a year-long project exploring the potential of blockchain technology for information services.

18. Publishing. Blockchain could have multiple applications in the publishing industry, from breaking into the industry to rights management to piracy. New platforms are emerging to level the playing field for writers and encourage collaboration among authors, editors, translators, and publishers. Educators, students, and NGOs may appreciate the benefits of expanded publishing options.

Authorship allows writers to publish their work on the platform. Readers can purchase the books from the platform using Authorship Tokens (ATS), an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency, and writers get 90% of royalties in ATS. Authors own the copyright to their work, so they have the freedom to publish and distribute it elsewhere.

PageMajik is a workflow management system designed to streamline the publishing process. The system provides a secure, centralized catalog of all files, which can be easily accessed by teams of writers, editors, and publishers. Each person’s roles, rights, and duties can be specified before they actually start using the platform to minimize errors. PageMajik is in the process of adding blockchain technology to the next version of its workflow system.

19. Public assistance. Blockchain could help streamline public assistance system for families and students. The UK began working with startup GovCoin Systems in 2016 to conduct trials for developing a blockchain-based solution for welfare payments. GovCoin divides money into separate stashes for different expenses. Recipients gain access to their benefits which are paid in cryptocurrency via a mobile app.

20. Bonds. The World Bank is using blockchain to sell a bond. Moving the process to the blockchain could cut costs and speed up trading for both bond issuers and investors. School districts could benefit from faster and cheaper bond sales.

Writing for Educause, David McArthur outlines the limitations and challenges of DLT solutions in education. He also lays out the benefits Permissioned Distributed Ledgers rather than public ledger. These smaller private networks could enhance security and achieve faster and cheaper transactions consensus.

“When it comes to educational innovation, blockchains and ledgers are likely to lead to evolutionary gains, rather than revolutionary reforms,” concludes McArthur.

For more, see:

This post was originally published on Forbes.


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Calling All Innovators

By: iNACOL Staff

Across the nation, educators and school leaders are working tirelessly to re-create the learning experience typical of the traditional one-size-fits-all approach to school. Each day they are inspiring and empowering students to take ownership of their learning, their lives and their future. District leaders are racking up small policy wins—even while accepting setbacks—to push the envelope of what’s possible with education. Yet, most days these pioneers go unrecognized and unheard.

iNACOL, a leading national nonprofit dedicated to transforming education systems and accelerating policy and practice to ensure high-quality learning for all, wants to change all that.

Each year, iNACOL honors and celebrates education innovation pioneers for their work in personalized, competency-based education. Nominations are now being accepted for the iNACOL Teacher of the Year and Outstanding Individual Contribution to Personalized Learning awards. Honorees will be announced at the iNACOL Symposium in Nashville, TN, which runs October 21-24, 2018.

Listen to Rachel Moola, iNACOL’s 2017 Teacher of the Year describe what it feels like to have her work be recognized, and why despite the many reasons to give up, she persists in creating transformative learning experiences. Rachel is a 7th grade ELA teacher and personalized learning coach at East Pennsboro Area Middle School in Enola, PA.

Here Shawn Rubin, chief education officer at the Highlander Institute, offers hope for moving education transformation forward fast in these early, messy days of trying something new with learning models. Shawn took home iNACOL’s Outstanding Individual Contribution to Personalized Learning Award in 2017.

iNACOL needs to receive your intention to nominate for its Innovator Awards by August 31, 2018, but you have until September 7, 2018 to submit the final nomination package. To notify the awards committee of your intent to nominate simply send an email with the following information:

  • Nominator’s contact information (name, organization, title, phone, email)
  • The name of the nominee (name, organization, title, phone, email)
  • The award category that you are nominating the person for

Here are a few details on who’s eligible for each award category.

Teacher of the Year Award

The iNACOL Teacher of the Year Award is given to a K-12 educator whose efforts as a personalized learning teacher exemplify to the highest degree their commitment to student success, knowledge and skill as a professional educator, and dedication to students. Requirements include:

  • Teaching candidate must currently be serving (at the time the application is submitted) as a personalized learning teacher in grades K-12.
  • At least 75% of the teacher’s instructional time is spent as an educator working in a personalized learning environment.
  • The nomination of an individual can be submitted by the individual or by a reference who is able to support the nomination through personal involvement with the nominee.

Outstanding Individual Contribution to Personalized Learning Award

This award is bestowed upon an individual whose insight and innovation has significantly increased the credibility and advancement of K-12 personalized, competency-based education. The award is a tribute to the individual’s outstanding work and leadership in the field, and it recognizes an overall body of work, not merely an isolated breakthrough. The recipient can be:

  • Any individual who has worked in, or provided support to, the field of K-12 personalized, competency-based learning
  • Self-nominated or nominated by a reference who can support the nomination through personal involvement with the nominee

Please don’t nominate the same person for both awards. And note, only one nomination per organization or school will be considered.

Additional information, including additional eligibility requirements and nomination forms, is available on our iNACOL Innovator Awards page. Questions about the process can be sent here.


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Getting Classroom Culture Right with Practical SEL

By Tamara Fyke.

Whether you are aware of it or not, you are teaching social-emotional learning (SEL). Your students are watching and learning from everything you do and say. They are learning how to deal with stress and conflict, how to relate to others, how to organize their tasks and time, and so much more. According to the Collaborative for Academic and Social-Emotional Learning (CASEL), there are five SEL competencies: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills and social awareness. As an educator, you have a choice whether or not to teach these competencies and skills intentionally.

Teaching SEL in the 21st-century classroom means examining both content and practice in order to find ways to integrate SEL into the daily experience. Are we using relevant and engaging content for Morning Meeting or Advisory Period? As students read the assigned texts in ELA and Social Studies, are life lessons being highlighted and connected to SEL? Are cooperative learning opportunities that give place for student voice, such as class discussions and project-based learning, being utilized? Are we using a punitive or restorative approach to discipline? The bottom line is to build relationships and connect with kids.

Why SEL is an essential part of a strong classroom culture

In order for students to develop and succeed academically and social-emotionally, they need to know that they are seen, known, and valued. At the core of SEL is relationships – relationships between teachers and their colleagues, teachers and their students, and students and their peers. It means putting people first – above tasks and data. We need to slow down long enough to connect with what is going on in our own minds and hearts and to connect with those around us.

Culture is what we do; climate is how it feels. We can incorporate SEL with intention into the culture through direct SEL instruction as well as teachable moments throughout the day. We can build positive relationships. When we do that, the school feels safe – everyone knows they belong.

How to talk to your students about SEL & classroom culture

Kids are smart. They can tell whether an adult is being authentic or fake. Therefore, it is essential that before we teach SEL, we live SEL. Let’s face it: teaching is difficult, and it’s easy to become discouraged by the system and lose the passion and joy of being with kids. It behooves us as leaders of young lives to take inventory of what is going on in our own minds and hearts so that we can deal with the issues that we face. I tell educators all the time, “Get ready! As you dig into SEL, you will have things bubble up that you need to deal with. Embrace the process!” Some suggestions for working through your own stuff are to journal each day, paint your emotions, see a counselor, join a book club, set a regular phone appointment with your best friend, or take meditative walks. These tips will help you get in touch with you so that you can keep your heart alive and open to your students.

Being intentional about SEL does not mean we have to announce to our students, “It’s SEL time!” Instead, we can use relevant and engaging materials to foster meaningful conversations and offer interdisciplinary activities. The most important thing to keep in mind is establishing a common language across the school community so that everyone in the building is clear on definitions and expectations. In addition, we must clearly communicate these norms on a regular basis in order to minimize misunderstandings.

Overcoming two SEL obstacles

In my conversations with teachers over the years, I’ve learned that the biggest challenge for SEL implementation occurs when there is a lack of administrative support. Although many teachers implement commit to SEL implementation in their own classroom, their efforts can be undermined if the whole school community does not buy in. SEL must be the common language of everyone in the building, including administration, office staff, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, janitorial staff, parents and classroom teachers. This means the principal must clearly communicate a mission and vision that incorporates SEL to the entire school community.

Secondly, classroom teachers need to know that they have time for SEL in their schedule. According to Dr. Maurice Elias, the recommended dosage for direct SEL instruction is a minimum of 30-45 minutes per week, so a good goal is to reach 10 minutes per day. Many schools find that setting aside 10-20 minutes for Morning Meeting or Advisory Period is both manageable and beneficial. The time spent on SEL is regained later because less time is spent dealing with behavior problems.

5 strategies for strengthening the classroom’s SEL culture

  1. Establish a common language ― Define and communicate your SEL vocabulary. It is not enough to say, “Be responsible!” or “Be kind!” What does responsibility mean? Responsibility is owning what you do and say. What does kindness mean? Kindness is treating others the way you want to be treated.
  2. Institute classroom norms ― Be sure to use positive and motivating language along with your SEL vocabulary, such as “I can be respectful – value myself and others. I will listen when someone is talking because I may learn something.”
  3. Schedule conversations ― Whether part of Morning Meeting, Advisory Period, ELA, or social studies, take time to hear what students are thinking and feeling. Let them know that their thoughts and experiences matter.
  4. Incorporate interdisciplinary activities ― Give students an opportunity to work in groups and create – a book, a comic, a website, a game, a poster, a service project, a song…you name it! They are more inclined to engage and work diligently when given a clear deliverable.
  5. Focus on relationships ― You have heard the old saying, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Let your students know that you care about them as human beings, not just data points. Get to know their likes and dislikes. Be intentional about downtime in the classroom, such as game time once a month or lunch with the teacher once a week.

SEL is helping kids identify what is going on in their heads and in their hearts so they can use their hands to build up and not tear down. As one of my heroes, Mister Rogers, said, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

Tamara Fyke is the creator, author, and brand manager for Love In A Big World, and is editor of Building People: Social & Emotional Learning for Kids, Schools & Communities, a book that brings 12 wide-ranging perspectives on SEL to educators, parents, and leaders. Follow her on Twitter: @entrprenurgirl


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