Archive for July, 2012

Stop the Grading!

What does a letter tell us?  What does an A, B, C, D, or F represent?  Do we all have the same definition or reasons for giving the letter grades we give?  I have written about a Competency Based Education System in my previous blogs, and in this system, learning becomes the constant and time the variable.  Would grades need to exist in a system like this?  What would be their purpose if learning truly is the constant?

In our current system grades many times reflect certain behaviors.  Did the learner turn in their assignment?  Did they turn it in on time?  Did they type the paper out?  Did the learner show all work?  There are many other behaviors we log as well that all affect the learner’s grades.

I had a conversation with a group of educators not too long ago and gave them all the same student’s test and asked them to grade it.  They could come up with their own rubric, but I gave them the answer key as well.  The grades on that test from six different educators, in the same content area, ranged from an F to a high C.  When asked why they graded the way they did, answers were given like: “The student showed their work and proved that they understood this step, but messed up here.  So, I gave them 3 out of 5 points on this problem.”  Another teacher said, on the same problem, “I only gave them 1 point out of 4 because it was obvious they didn’t understand the main concept assessed here, but they showed their work and attempted it.”  In both of these examples we have differing points of view as to what grade should be given on this specific problem.  Both agreed, through further conversation, that the learner had no understanding of the concept being assessed, but felt they should give points for other good behaviors exhibited, such as showing work.  Why?  What’s more important to us – that students understand the concept, or that students show all their work so we can give partial credit for other things that have nothing to do with the learning being assessed?

Is it more important that students learn or when they learn?  I believe just about every educator will respond with that students learn.  Most of us got into education because we felt that all students can learn and, given the right supports and time, will learn.  Let’s set the bar where we want them and accept nothing less.  Then provide the support and time necessary for our learners to achieve these goals.  If we do this, grades will have no meaning since every learner will be achieving at the expected levels.  A simple check mark would suffice.  Let’s stop the grading!


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Educator Pay in a Competency Based System

How do we pay facilitators (teachers) in a Competency Based System?  This is a question we will have to answer if Competency Based Education is going to become a reality and grow in support by educators.  When I first began thinking about this question I thought the answer was going to be simple, but after thinking more deeply I begin to find faults and issues with every payment plan I have been able to come up with.  I am hopeful someone else will be able to help me find better solutions.

I just recently finished reading Off the Clock by Fred Bramante and Rose Colby.  It is a great read that I highly recommend to anyone thinking about Competency Based Education or anyone wanting to stretch their educational philosophies.  In this book they bring up the issue of salary in a Competency Based Education System. There is a chance that if learning is completely personalized there will be facilitators who have more learners they are supporting than other facilitators, including, quite possibly learners from other schools.  Do we pay these facilitators on salary, by the hour, by how many learners they are working with, by learner completion of competencies, or some other way that I have not been able to think about yet?  Below, I outline my thoughts, questions, and concerns on each of these methods.

Number of Learners:

Paying facilitators by the number of learners could be a nice compensation for the differences in work load.  Facilitators who are highly sought after by learners for their services would be honored with higher pay for their increase in demand.  There is a good chance that learners are seeking the services from this facilitator because of their ability to personalize the learning for them and make it relevant and achievable for them.  My concern begins when I begin to think about our natural tendencies to take the path of least resistance.  We all know that many learners will seek out the easier facilitators who are going to pass them through the competencies with lower expectations.

Is there a solution to this problem?  Can we require the signature or sign off by multiple facilitators to approve the completion of a competency?  I know some people will probably support an end of competency/course exam as a check and balances.  If this is the case I believe we need to be very careful in how we design these exams.  In my vision of Competency Based Education there are very few multiple choice exams, as I don’t believe you are going to get any higher than the level of understanding from the Revised Blooms Taxonomy.  And, if we are going to require higher levels of thinking than understanding, than we are going to need assessments that are more rigorous than a multiple choice test can provide.  Who is going to score each of these to ensure facilitators are not lowering their standards, to get more learners, to pad their pockets with more money?  Do we need someone checking all of them, or just random samples to ensure consistency?

Learner Completion of Competencies:

I can see how this would have some of the same issues paying facilitators by the number of learners they have acquired had.  Will facilitators pass learners just so they can earn a higher paycheck?  Is the solution to this problem the same as it would be for paying by the number of learners?

A second issue I see with this is that not all courses or areas of study have the same number of standards and benchmarks.  Does this mean that they also would not have the same number of competencies?  If not, is it fair to pay a math endorsed facilitator or english endorsed facilitator more money just because they have more competencies to support than a music or physical education endorsed facilitator for example?  Can a facilitator, no matter what their endorsement, support a learner in any competency and get paid for it?  Who then gets paid, the facilitator who supported, the one responsible for deciding whether they have met the competency or not, or both?  How do we monitor this or make these decisions?

A third potential issue with this, is that learners who struggle to complete competencies could possibly begin to be avoided and supported less, since facilitators will be paid less for their time with them.  That is a very scary thought for me as these are the learners who need the most support.


How do we monitor this?  If learning is truly achieved any where, any pace, and at any time, then couldn’t facilitators be working any where and at any time.  How is this time monitored if a facilitator is supporting a learner somewhere other than the walls of a school?  How do we know facilitators are using their time effectively?  At this time, I do not see hourly pay as a reasonable plan of action.  It is too hard to monitor and prove.


This seems to be the least problematic, however it also has its issues.  Educators are currently paid salary, and supplemented by hourly pay for a little of their time spent outside of contract time.  Salary is currently, in most places, decided by the number years you have been an educator, your highest degree, and the number of hours you have earned towards an advanced degree or for staff development.  Does this support facilitator effectiveness?  I don’t think so.  What if salary was decided by a number of factors that proved your effectiveness as a facilitator?  What would these factors be?  I believe some of these factors could include: evaluations (possibly by peers, learners, and administration), number of learners requesting services, number of competencies achieved by learners, and learner’s success/improved success on end of course exams/state level exams and/or other high stakes exams.  By looking at all of these things we should get a better view of the effectiveness of each facilitator and be able to pay them accordingly.

Who pays the salary of the facilitator if there are students from multiple schools requesting services?  Do we take a percentage of each learner’s state funded money and pay the facilitator with this?  Now, we are beginning to move away from salary and back to number of learners.  Are their any other factors we could be, or should be looking at?

My current opinion is that we have to stay with salary, and find solutions to learners requesting the services of a facilitator from another school.  It seems to have the fewest potential issues that could hurt learner achievement.  What are your thoughts, solutions, other potential ways to pay educators, or problems we need to be thinking about?  I ask that you either challenge my thinking, help me find better solutions to these problems, or validate my opinions.  Let’s work together to improve education for all of our children.

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CBE Student Information Systems, What Do We Want Them To Do?

If you could build a student information system for a Competency Based Learning System what would it be able to do?  I have been thinking a lot about this lately and have been wondering if there is something out there that will do everything we need.  Or does something new need to be built?  Below I outline everything that I would like to see in a student information system.

1)  An ability to log progress and mastery of standards, benchmarks, and competencies.

– I say progress because it would be great to see what standards, benchmarks, and competencies a learner is currently working on as well as how long they have been working on them.  It would be nice to see a percentage bar notifying what percentage of the standards or benchmarks have been completed for a competency or course.  With the inclusion of a percentage bar it would make it much easier to see when a student is struggling because they have stopped making progress.  It would also be nice to have a time stamp indicating when they started working on those specific standards, benchmarks, and/or competencies.

– I mentioned mastery as we need a way to log which standards, benchmarks, and competencies have been mastered.  I still have questions as to how these should be logged.

2)  Point system vs Binary vs Letter Grades (Standards Based Report Card):

– I believe letter grades should be out in a CBE system.  The conversation has to be changed to learning as opposed to a letter.  Many people are arguing for a point system, while others are arguing for a binary system, (they either mastered it or didn’t).  At this point, I am in favor of the binary system.  If CBE is truly time as the variable, and learning the constant, binary systems seem to make the most sense to me.  I feel as though we need to set the bar where we want students to be and not accept anything less than proficient.  After we have set the bar, we should never permit anything less and provide all the support and time needed for the learner to meet that level.

3) A way to log learner progress: (This probably looks like a given, but I think the organization could change drastically.  What would the system look like to support what we are wanting?)

– Are we recording standards, benchmarks, or competencies?  Do we record them all?  Do we record standards and competencies separately or together as a group?  Do we record standards and benchmarks at all or just focus on the competencies?  My thoughts at this point are that we should record the standards and competencies separately.  I also feel that the competencies should be extremely broad such as Solves Problems Logically for math, Communicates Effectively for language arts, or what ever the main focus is for each course.  We might even want to think about allowing the learners to develop their personal competencies and just use the standards and benchmarks as a gauge for what they know and are able to do.  I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks we need for this section.

4)  An ability for learners, to write and present proposals for learning experiences and demonstrations of learning to their facilitators.  I would also like to see a way for the facilitators to approve or deny and write comments back to the learner on what needs to be improved for the approval of the proposal.

– I see CBE as a great spring board for personalized learning.  If we present learners with the expectations of what they are to know and be able to do, then give them the freedom to seek the knowledge and understanding in a way that fits their personal style, interests, and beliefs; learners will become completely engaged and own their learning.  In order to make this happen, facilitators will need to support learners as they find their personal ways of proving competency in the standards.

5)  An ability for the learners to create an electronic portfolio of their learning experiences and demonstrations of learning.

– Learner portfolios have been proven to be beneficial in the learning process for all learners.  Portfolios are also a great organizational tool for learners to access their previous projects and assessments.  If they came across a standard or benchmark they didn’t see earlier and realized they had already demonstrated mastery of that from an earlier project or assessment, they could present that to one of their facilitators to prove competency.

– What if grades cease to exist?  I believe learner portfolios would become essential in the college admissions process if this occurred.  The portfolios would be a great tool for admissions to look and learn not only about the learner’s quality of work, but also about the learner’s personality and interests.

6)  A notification system if a learner is not progressing at an appropriate pace, or a way to schedule support time with a facilitator.

– Learners and facilitators could work together to come up with an estimated project/assessment completion date and then log this date in the system.  The system could then send a message to the facilitator and learner letting them know when they are getting closer to the date and if they have passed it.  It would also be nice for the learner and facilitator to have the ability to request and schedule meeting times for support when needed.

7)  Discussion forums for students to have conversations with each other and teachers around their learning.

– If the system gave learners and facilitators the ability to have open conversations around learning for everyone to see, students would have another way to learn from each other and might be more open to sharing their thoughts and ideas.

8)  Phone numbers, addresses, emails, etc…

9)  An ability to log parent/guardian/and learner contacts.

– I included the learners as it is possible that a learner is learning somewhere other than the four walls of their school.  It will become essential for facilitators to keep track of  these interactions.

10)  A behavior/referral system to log unwanted behaviors as well as actions taken to correct the behavior.

– I feel as though with more engagement students will act out far less, but there will still be unwanted behaviors that need to be dealt with.  An easy to use system would be nice for this.

11)  A way to schedule classes for students.

– In a personalized system students might still want to take classes the traditional way and these times should be made available for them, as well as an easy system for counselors and administrators to schedule these for them, or for learners to schedule for themselves.

12)  A way for parents to view their child’s progress and communicate with facilitators easily.

– Could just be a parent portal as well as a private chat option similar to Facebook.

A couple of systems that I have recently viewed are Edustruct and Project Foundry.  Edustruct is set up with an interface very similar to Facebook.  It is user-friendly and focuses a great deal on conversation tools within the program.  Project Foundry has a strong focus on the Core and National Standards and allows students to make proposals for projects/assessments tied to the standards.

I am very excited to start the work around debating and deciding exactly what we want in our information system as I feel it will begin to focus the conversations around what Competency Based Education looks like.  At this time we are all over the place and if we can find some commonalities within a system like this we might begin to get a feel of what we are all wanting.  I invite others to comment on additional things they would like to see supported or to offer suggestions as to what they feel is not needed.  I do not pretend to hold all the answers, and it is only by working together we are going to get this right.

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