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A p henomenological case study of competency-based approaches to education

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A p henomenological case study of competency-based approaches to education a ground-based look at one public school district
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Kosena, Brian Joseph ( author )
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English
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Competency-based education ( lcsh )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
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non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Competency-based education (CBE) is an educational reform that reimagines how school systems organize learning environments and advance students toward graduation. CBE replaces the Carnegie unit by using student ability levels, not age, as the primary grouping mechanism. It also uses the student demonstration of competency, not seat time in a particular course, as the metric by which academic advancement is determined. To date few K-12 systems have adopted CBE, leaving little literature for other systems to consider in their own CBE designs. Toward this end, there existed a need for the implementation stories of existing CBE systems to be told. This phenomenological case study analyzed the experience of three principals and six teachers across three CBE elementary schools. The study attempted to answer three primary research questions: 1) Identify and compare theoretical and operational definitions of CBE, 2) Identify and compare CBE implementation strategies, 3) Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation. Through semi-structured interviews the study generated experiential descriptors, which were used to identify qualitative differences in educator perceptions of CBE definition and practice. By categorizing these descriptors definition and implementation strategies were seen across the different educational settings. From these findings the participants shared similar definitional beliefs, however variations in implementation existed
Review:
Finally, successes concerning student ownership into the learning process were shared, as well as barriers surrounding the impact of class size on personalized learning.
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Thesis (D.Ed..)--University of Colorado Denver, 2017.
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Includes bibliographical references.
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System requirements: Adobe Reader.
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by Brian Joseph Kosena.

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University of Florida
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Full Text
A PHENOMENOLOGICAL CASE STUDY OF COMPETENCY-BASED APPROACHES TO
EDUCATION: A GROUND-BASED LOOK AT ONE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT
by
BRIAN JOSEPH KOSENA B.A., University of Colorado, 2003 M.Ed., University of Phoenix, 2007
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education
Leadership for Educational Equity Program
2017


This thesis for the Doctor of Education degree by Brian Joseph Kosena has been approved for the Leadership for Educational Equity Program by
Cynthia Stevenson, Chair Jim Christensen Oliver Grenham
Date: May 13, 2017


Kosena, Brian Joseph (Ed.D, Leadership for Educational Equity Program)
A Phenomenological Case Study of Competency-Based Approaches to Education: A Ground-
Based Look at One Pubic School District
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Cynthia Stevenson
ABSTRACT
Competency-based education (CBE) is an educational reform that reimagines how school systems organize learning environments and advance students toward graduation. CBE replaces the Carnegie unit by using student ability levels, not age, as the primary grouping mechanism. It also uses the student demonstration of competency, not seat time in a particular course, as the metric by which academic advancement is determined. To date few K-12 systems have adopted CBE, leaving little literature for other systems to consider in their own CBE designs. Toward this end, there existed a need for the implementation stories of existing CBE systems to be told. This phenomenological case study analyzed the experience of three principals and six teachers across three CBE elementary schools. The study attempted to answer three primary research questions: 1) Identify and compare theoretical and operational definitions of CBE, 2) Identify and compare CBE implementation strategies, 3) Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation. Through semi-structured interviews the study generated experiential descriptors, which were used to identify qualitative differences in educator perceptions of CBE definition and practice. By categorizing these descriptors definition and implementation strategies were seen across the different educational settings. From these findings the participants shared similar definitional beliefs, however variations in implementation existed. Finally, successes concerning student ownership into the learning process were shared, as well as barriers surrounding the impact of class size on personalized learning.
The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication.
Approved: Cynthia Stevenson
iii


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to thank the nine educators who contributed their time and expertise, as well as their experiences of implementing a complex and difficult reform. Without their participation this study could not have happened. I would like to thank my committee chair, Cindy Stevenson, who for the past year provided me with guidance, insight, and encouragement not to mention numerous breakfasts at the Egg and I. I would like to thank Kent Seidel for his review and support of the studys methods and findings sections. I would like to thank the Colorado Multiple Institutional Review Board for reviewing and approving this study under COMIRB Protocol 16-1317. I would like to thank the thoughtful and intelligent members of my cohort who challenged my thinking and helped me grow into the socially just public educator I am today. I would like to thank Pam Swanson for supporting me as I juggled the realities of completing a doctorate while also remaining fully employed in several different WPS schools. I would like to thank Harry Bull for planting the initial seed many years ago that a doctorate was something I should, and needed to pursue. I would like to thank my parents who have served as constant role models both personally and professionally, and have been behind me every step of the way. Finally, I would like to thank my beautiful wife Jennifer, who throughout each success and challenge stood by my side, supported my pursuit of this degree, and never once stopped believing I could do this, and do it well.
IV


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
I. INTRODUCTION..............................................................1
Background of the Problem............................................1
Statement of the Problem.............................................2
Purpose of the Study.................................................3
Research Questions...................................................3
Conclusion...........................................................4
II. LITERATURE REVIEW.........................................................5
Definition of High Quality Competency Education......................5
Key Features of Competency-Based Education...........................6
Growing Demand for Competency-Based Education Models.................9
Tough Issues Facing Competency-Based Design.........................11
Varying Implementation Models Across the Country....................17
Learning From Those Who Went First..................................20
IIF METHODS..................................................................22
Setting and Participants............................................23
Instruments.........................................................24
Data-analysis.......................................................25
Limitations.........................................................26
Ethical Considerations..............................................27
Trustworthiness.....................................................28
IV. FINDINGS
30


Definition of CBE....................................................32
Student Grouping.....................................................33
Academic Progression.................................................34
Define and Measure Student Competency................................34
Key Features of CBE Instruction......................................35
Emphasis on Application of Knowledge and Development of Important Skills ... 36
Key Features of CBE Assessment.......................................36
How CBE Assessment is used for Learning..............................37
Successes and Barriers of CBE Processes and Tools....................37
Successes and Barriers of CBE Instruction............................38
Successes and Barriers of CBE Assessment.............................39
Largest Barriers to CBE Implementation...............................40
Conclusion...........................................................42
V. DISCUSSION.................................................................43
Discussion of Findings...............................................47
Performance-Based Groupings..........................................57
Defining and Measuring Student Competency............................60
Successes of CBE Implementation......................................62
Barriers to CBE Implementation.......................................64
Why Competency-based Education?......................................67
Implications for Practice and Future Research........................67
Conclusion...........................................................69
REFERENCES....................................................................70
APPENDIX......................................................................73
vi


A. Interview Questions.....................................................73
B. Primary Research Objectives.............................................75
C. Script for Starting Interviews..........................................76
D. Consent for Participation in Interview Research.........................77
E. Code Frequency..........................................................78


CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION
In May 2013 the Colorado State Board of Education adopted new high school graduation guidelines, to be fully implemented by 2021. Among many considerations, two specific guidelines stated that districts must provide a "recognition of multiple and diverse pathways to a diploma and an "articulation through a standards-based education system (Grad Guidelines, 2013, p. 2). Also specified was schools "must state the minimum academic competencies needed for students to demonstrate postsecondary and workforce readiness and the types of measurements used, as well as "must allow students multiple, equally rigorous and valued ways to demonstrate competency of the knowledge and skills necessary for postsecondary education and meaningful careers (Grad Guidelines, 2013, p. 2). These new guidelines represent a potential paradigm shift for public schools in Colorado, and present a unique opportunity for competency-based education (CBE) to be more widely adopted.
Background of the Problem
The importance of demonstrating a minimum set of academic competencies to obtain a high school diploma cannot be understated. Schools currently operate under a time-based measurement of academic progression, known as the Carnegie unit. Students attend semester- or year-long courses where the teacher determines a final percentage-based letter grade from a variety of considerations, including items such as assignment completion and class participation. Although these measures have been used for decades, they do not always reflect a student's mastery of subject content (Silva, White, & Toch, 2015). Students can be deemed competent with a "D letter grade, despite missing up to 40% of course material (Patrick et al., n.d.; Vander Ark, 2013). Starting in 2021, Colorado high school students must demonstrate mastery in all core subjects, even if they earned an acceptable grade point average. The old saying "D's earn
1


degrees may no longer be true.
Leading up to 2021, schools and districts need to know if their students will be able to demonstrate mastery across core-subjects, and if not, what gaps must be filled. One educational reform districts can consider is a competency-based education approach. In competency-based systems, schools replace the Carnegie unit, by instead focusing on student mastery. According to Competency Works, at its very core competency-based education uses student mastery of measureable learning targets as the metric to determine academic progression, not seat-time in a class (Competency Works, n.d.). Since students can no longer advance with only 60% mastery, in a competency-based system all graduates will be able to meet the new high school graduation guidelines setout by 2021. With this said, implementing such a reform is not easy.
Statement of the Problem
One challenge to this effort is defining exactly what competency-based education is, and how it should be practiced. In 2011, Competency Works, a project of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, convened 100 experts to create the following working definition of high quality competency education:
Students advance upon mastery.
Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students
Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions (Competency Works, n.d., p. 1).
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With this definition in mind, variations of practice still exist among those schools that have implemented competency-based education, and districts that take on such an endeavor must be ready to embrace years of hard work as schools manage the adoption process (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). In addition, very few systems are competency-based, leaving schools or districts wanting to make such a reform with few examples to leam from.
Purpose of the Study
Westminster Public Schools (WPS), located in a suburb in the Denver metro area, is a medium sized district of 10,000 students. After years of low state test scores and a persistent achievement gap, in 2009 WPS adopted a competency-based education model to achieve a learner-centered classroom that would create proficiency for every student (http://www.cbsadams50.org/need-for-change/). WPS' competency-based education model, known as CBS, combines four major components: 1) Leadership, 2) Shared Vision, 3) Competency Based Design, and 4) Continuous Improvement Cycle to help ensure students achieve at the highest levels (http://www.cbsadams50.org/our-cbs-model/). After seven years of implementation, WPS educators, especially those in the schools and classrooms, have learned a lot about competency-based design and the successes and challenges encountered during such a systemic change process. However, the knowledge of these educator experiences was not readily available, leaving it difficult for other systems to leam from as they consider their own competency-based designs. Toward this end, there exists a need for the WPS story to be told. These experiences provide rich data for understanding CBE.
Research Questions
This phenomenological case study analyzed the experience of three elementary schools in WPS as they adopted competency education. Interview responses from principals and teachers highlight lessons learned, strengths and weaknesses of WPS' competency-based model, and
3


insights for implementation for other districts hoping to make a competency-based reform. Specifically, the study aimed to answer the following research objectives:
o Primary research objective #1: Identify and compare the theoretical and
operational definitions of CBE across and within WPS elementary schools, both relative to the Competency Works best practices CBE definition, o Primary research objective #2: Identify and compare CBE implementation strategies across and within WPS elementary schools, o Research objective #3: Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation across and within WPS elementary schools.
Conclusion
As school districts across Colorado work to ensure every graduate can demonstrate minimum competencies for post-secondary success, competency-based education is a model some will consider. Looking to those systems that have implemented such a reform can provide invaluable insights, especially at the school and classroom level where implementation can be daunting. It is the hope that this study, through the experiences of WPS principals and teachers will assist those wishing to adopt a competency-based education model in their own schools and districts.
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CHAPTER II
LITERATURE REVIEW
A reality of education across the United States is students are allowed to advance to the next grade level often times without the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful (Patrick, Kennedy, & Powell, n.d.). The Carnegie unit, a time-based measurement of academic progression, uses 'credit-hours' to track educational attainment and serves as the foundational base for all school structures. In addition, it uses students' age and not their performance level in a particular subject to group learning cohorts (Patrick et al., n.d.). Originally the Carnegie unit was designed to ensure post-graduate readiness by standardizing the amount of time students were exposed to specific content areas (Silva, White, & Toch, 2015). As this system evolved, an unfortunate reality occurred. Students advanced through school with low, but passing letter grades despite not being competent in the subject material (Farrington & Small, 2008). High school diplomas, or certifications of academic achievement, are awarded to students who have not fully demonstrated a mastery of the learning targets. As the United States' continues to shift from the industrial society the Carnegie unit was designed for, and toward a knowledge-based society of the 21st century, new skills and competencies are needed for the American workforce (Koenen, Dochy, & Berghmans, 2015). As public schools wrestle this changing reality, many believe implementing competency-based education is the best way to move forward (Johnstone & Soares, 2014).
Definition of High Quality Competency Education
Before going further it is important to define what competency-based education is. In 2011, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) convened 100 experts to create a working definition of high quality competency education:
5


Students advance upon mastery.
Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students
Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions (Competency Works, n.d., p. 1).
Key Features of Competency-Based Education
With this definition in mind, it is important to highlight a few key features. The central tenant to competency-based education is that a student's academic progression is determined only by his or her demonstration of mastery in core competencies. As important, when mastery isn't demonstrated, the school must provide individualized supports for as long as is necessary, until competency occurs (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). In a competency-based system student advancement occurs at different rates for different subject contents; and almost never coincide with existing academic calendars (Silva, White, & Toch, 2015; Johnstone & Soares, 2014). Competency-based education also does not use the traditional method of grouping students into learning cohorts by age, but instead it groups students by their performance-levels for particular subject contents (Silva et al., 2014). This method acknowledges that not all 10-year old students read at the same level. When age is the determining metric used for grouping learning cohorts, multiple performance levels typically exist in a single classroom, leaving the need for highly differentiated instruction to occur (Tomlinson & Demirsky Allan, 2000). Although possible, this expectation can be hard to achieve day-in and day-out for classroom teachers. Removing this
6


need by utilizing performance-based groupings is seen by competency-based educators as a better way to ensure instruction matches the learners levels. But, beyond classroom groupings, it is also important to be considerate of grading practices.
In order to accurately measure student mastery a standards-based grading system must be employed (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Under the traditional Carnegie Unit of schooling, percentage-based letter grading is used to determine student mastery. This system often awards academic credit for student behavior not indicative of mastery, such as completion of assignments and course participation (Colby, 1999). Providing academic credit for non-mastery learning tasks creates a system whereby a student can be deemed competent with a D letter grade, despite missing 35-40% of the content knowledge. In addition, these point-based letter grades are largely inconsistent, as grade calculations are left to teacher discretion, leaving little uniformity across classrooms even within schools, let alone across school districts (Colby, 1999). Competency-based education eliminates this reality by ensuring students only receive credit for objectively mastering a clear set of learning targets. Toward this end, how students are able to do this must considered as well.
In a competency-based design learners must be provided a multitude of ways to demonstrate mastery, not just summative assessment tools typically used in classrooms today (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Competency-based teachers use assessment strategies that are individualized and promote multiple pathways for demonstrating mastery (Sturgis, C., Patrick,
S., & Pittenger, L., 2011). Performance-based assessments with clear rubrics and consistent scales measure student proficiency on cross-curricular learning objectives, a critical process for high quality competency-based learning to occur (Sturgis et al., 2011). An example of this is the use of student learning portfolios, or compilations of academic work that demonstrate mastery of specific learning objectives (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Unlike traditional assessments, which only provide credit for a single course, learning portfolios travel with the student as they progress
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through school, becoming evidence of mastery toward multiple subjects and levels (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Finally, since students leam at different rates, providing a single assessment, usually an end-of-unit summative exam to an entire class at the same time seems unfair. In a competency-based learning environment, assessment doesnt occur as a whole-group event, but instead only when a student is ready. Since students progress at different rates, individualized point-in-time testing is more personal and allows a student to demonstrate mastery of learning only after he or she is ready (Sturgis et al., 2011). This element of personalization is important but is not the only way competency-based education tailors instruction to each child.
Since competency-based education allows students to advance at their own pace and on their own trajectories, a high degree of personalized learning exists (Sturgis et al., 2011). Personalization occurs in many ways, but must include structures that promote student agency, specifically through the use of clear, individualized learning plans derived from data-driven decisions (Sturgis et al., 2011). Since every child is an active participant in the creation of his or her plan, higher degrees of student ownership in the learning process are achieved. In addition, these learning plans highlight individual strengths and identify gaps, providing unique insights into next steps for learning (Sturgis et al., 2011). Since individual learning plans must include student data, the use of detailed student records becomes necessary. This data rich environment allows for reflection of past successes, but also easy identification of next steps (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Competency-based school systems seamless integration of student information systems, learning management systems and data analytics ensures accurate recording, tracking, and monitoring of student progression toward mastery (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). When the components of personalized learning come together in the framework of a competency-based learning environment, high levels of student agency occur (Patrick et al., n.d.). This creates a pathway whereby students assume ownership in their learning, are aware of their strengths and areas of improvement, know how success will be measured, and understand their path toward


becoming a competent graduate.
Growing Demand for Competency-Based Education Models
In addition to the learning characteristics listed above, other factors are driving the demand for competency-based education. First, as states begin to use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), many believe competency-based learning is the best way to develop new strategies to adapt to the more rigorous standards (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). The CCSS makes organizing schools by competencies, and not the Carnegie unit advantageous. When student competency is the central focus, teachers and students can better identify specific learning objectives as they work to better understand the CCSS (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Adoption of a competency-based model creates an expectation that students master each standard, a reality not true in a point-based letter grading system. Finally, competency educations uses of performance-based assessments help students develop lifelong learning competencies the CCSS emphasizes (Sturgis et al., 2011). Clearly competency-based learning can be a useful tool in adopting the CCSS, however it can also be used as an important tool in Next Generation Learning.
According to the Council of Chief State School Officers, Next Generation Learning is rooted in the guiding principles of 1) student-centered learning, 2) performance assessments, 3) comprehensive systems of support that extend beyond the student, 4) clearly stated high expectations, 5) anytime, anywhere learning, and 6) performance-based learning (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Although not synonymous, the Next Generation Learning principles can be found in competency-based education as well. Toward this end, competency-based education is often used, even if erroneously, interchangeably with Next Generation Learning. For those schools and districts considering Next Generation Learning, competency-based education need be included in those discussions (Sturgis et al., 2011). As educators continue to rethink what
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education will look like for the next generation, multiple pathways toward graduation are also being considered.
An unfortunate reality facing many students as they work toward completing high school, is attending class everyday for 5-6 hours isnt either desirable or feasible. One third of students currently do not graduate. These drop out or stop out kids are in alternative schools, the juvenile justice system, or simply didnt make it to high school graduation (Sturgis et al., 2011; Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Currently there are few ways these students can obtain their diploma, however competency-based education is beginning to mitigate this problem (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). In 2008, the Alabama State Board of Education made it possible for school districts to offer credit recovery and/or credit advancement opportunities through the demonstration of mastery, instead of predetermined seat-time in class (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). In New Hampshire, the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School is partnering with school districts to provide credit recovery through demonstration of competency using online modular units of instruction (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Finally, for high mobility students competency-based education provides greater flexibility for academic progression through the use of fractionalized credits, modular learning units, or student-designed learning experiences that are not necessarily bound by traditional course sequences (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011, p. 22). These examples show how school systems are using competency-based design to provide alternative pathways to graduation, and ultimately decreasing the nations dropout rate.
Finally, competency-based education is also helping schools and districts innovate to help turn around years of under- or low-performing students. A significant challenge facing schools is helping those students with significant gaps, or those well below grade level. Competency-based education provides the framework to personalize learning by ensuring instruction is delivered at the students performance level, not his or her age. In addition, when coupled with strong blended learning techniques, such as adaptive, skill-based online learning tools, students can
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begin to target specific gaps, instead of completing an entire course (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Clearly there is a growing demand for innovative educational practices such as competency-based education, so then why is it not being more widely practiced?
Tough Issues Facing Competency-Based Design
As early adopters of competency-based education continue to implement, they provide unique insights into the transformative elements a radical institutional reform brings, as well as challenges other districts can expect following down the same path. As with any major institutional change, success depends on the creation of a shared vision for the need to innovate. Engagement of all stakeholders from the onset of the reform is critical to gain the necessary buy-in needed to ensure sustainability over the long-term (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Top-down leadership will not work. If the push for the reform is seen as the school board or superintendents alone, the effort no matter how valiant or appropriate, most likely will fail. According to Robert Crumley, the superintendent of Chugach School District, the first to adopt a competency-based education model, the biggest mistake districts moving towards performance-based systems make is the that they fail to invest adequately in community engagement (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015, p. 7). One common misstep by school leaders is to introduce complex reform through large community forums where only one-way communication exists. Although practical, this type of outreach is unlikely to produce the real conversations that help build deep understandings; the exact type of understandings necessary for lasting commitment needed to sustain a change movement, especially as the reform experiences unavoidable implementation challenges (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Toward this end, it is critical for district leadership to present realistic timelines of institutional reform upfront. Competency-based education does not happen over night, or for that maher, several years. Schools must commit to living within the ambiguity of change for five, maybe even ten years, embrace consistent refinements, and trust the
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process (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Easier said than done, but crucial for a successful implementation of competency-based education.
In addition to stakeholder buy-in, competency-based education also requires the embodiment of a growth mindset by every member of the organization. Without this, the systematic reform will fail (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). A belief by all stakeholders that every child can succeed if only given the proper supports, and that a competency education design is the best way to achieve this common goal is critical to long-term success. Without it, the reform will fail (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Toward this end, transforming a school system requires a unique brand of leadership at all levels, from the school board down to the classroom. Gaining buy-in, dismantling old assumptions and embracing ambiguity as the system moves through the change process is critical to its success, and very hard to achieve (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). This alone can make even the strongest districts reconsider a competency-based model. As daunting of a challenge as this is, there are others to be discussed as well.
The need for high quality assessment is critical. Beyond simply creating student portfolios, competency-based schools must design meaningful summative assessments to be delivered just in time, or when a student is ready to demonstrate mastery. This is vastly different than the traditional practice of relying on standardized summative exams typically issued at the end of an academic unit or school year (Sturgis et al., 2011, p. 23). In addition, educators across the system must trust the validity of previously demonstrated student mastery by ensuring consistency in assessment practices across classrooms and schools (Sturgis et al., 2011). This begins by defining what student competency is, as well as the creation of high quality instruments to measure these competencies when a student is ready (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Although it is important to include the systematic use of formative assessments as a means toward measuring student mastery, this assessment tool must also be strategically built into curriculum design to provide a feedback mechanism to inform next steps in a students
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personalized learning plan (Sturgis et al., 2011). But beyond the creation and systematic use of high quality local assessments, competency-based school districts also face challenges in relation to state and federal policies.
In an effort to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), as well as the newly revised Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states designed school accountability systems to revolve around standardized exams (Guilfoyle, 2006). Most created assessment windows where all students take state exams at the same time. Today school districts, including competency-based ones, are required to test all students by grade level, and only at the end of the school year (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). This clearly is inconsistent with competency-based design that prefers point-in-time performance-leveled assessments. Also, for those students below grade-level, competency-based education places instruction at their current level, reducing incidental contact or exposure to grade-level material (Sturgis et al., 2011; Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). State assessment windows and grade-level testing can unfairly hurt competency-based districts, and provide incentives for other districts to not adopt such practices.
Another challenge is the fact that competency-based educators are asked to do more, especially when tasked with generating personalized learning plans for each student. In traditional models, teachers generally prioritize and sequence learning standards based upon required content and time available to cover it. However, in a competency-based system educators must provide personalized instruction to ensure mastery of every learning target (Grenham, 2014). This creates a unique challenge, especially when considering the number of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for each subject, at each grade level. In a competency-based system, documented evidence is required for every standard. Using the CCSS, a typical third grade student will need a body of academic evidence for 186 different learning standards across the just the core subject contents of Math, Literacy, Science, and Social Studies (Grenham, 2014; Sturgis et al., 2011). Clearly, this is challenging for the student, let alone the teacher who
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must teach, assess, and record learning targets for twenty-five different children. This reality presents another tough issue for a successful competency-based implementation.
With so many learning targets, competency-based systems must be able to manage large amounts of data. Unlike traditional point-based letter grading, competency-based teachers need to input student artifacts for each learning target within a recording and reporting tool (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Add to this the fact that most existing student information systems are designed for traditional time-based, course specific architectures, competency-based teachers struggle to accurately record student progression (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Although some companies, such as Empower (previously known as Educate) are specifically designed for competency-based systems, considerable challenges remain, such as easing the amount of recordable data, interacting with state reporting systems, and the inability of student information systems to seamlessly sync to learning management systems (Sturgis et al., 2011). The data burden felt by students and teachers alike, coupled with few software programs to choose from is a daunting hurdle as schools work to implement competency-based education. However, even if the data is recorded accurately, yet another concern exists with how outside institutions, such as universities work with competency-based graduates.
Competency-based systems find it difficult to find alignment to higher education institutions. This includes several facets of school operations. First, in a competency-based design students move at their own pace, meaning that some will advance beyond traditional K-12 curriculum before leaving high school. This requires schools to offer college-level curriculum on-site, or ensure concurrent enrollment options exist for those advanced students to continue their educational attainment (Sturgis et al., 2011). Second, college admissions use the traditional Carnegie system, whereby student credit is awarded by seat-time not mastery; but more importantly grade point averages (GPAs). These GPAs are determined by how individual teachers award points, which mentioned previously are not always indicative of student mastery.
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Since GPAs are one of the primary determinants for student eligibility and collegiate readiness, students coming from traditional systems can have an advantage over competency-based graduates (Sturgis et al., 2011). Students working through standards-based grading within a competency-based system do not earn point-based letter grades, and therefore do not have a traditional GPA to submit. Many competency-based schools use a proficiency scale of 1-4, where a 1 denotes no proficiency and a 4 exceeds proficiency, however this grading method does not convert to a 4=A and 1=D metric (Vander Ark, 2013). Although competency-based schools have worked to generate a conversion metric to produce a GPA, it is not clean, especially since competency-based students are never awarded academic credit for assignment completion or class participation, both measures that can inflate final point-based letter grades.
As school districts work to implement competency-based design, they struggle to transform existing teachers into competency-based educators, as well as find new teachers adept at the challenging realities of competency-based instruction. There is no sugarcoating how hard this is. Creating personalized learning plans, designing customized pathways to graduation, adequately differentiating and aligning instruction to a hundreds of learning standards (let alone recording them), and creating meaningful assessments is just part of becoming a competency-based educator. It also requires successfully embedding formative assessment into curriculum mapping, effectively defining and measuring student competency across numerous subjects, managing large amounts of data, and effectively communicating to often times confused parents. The challenges are real yet the teacher education programs at most universities provide little if any at all training on competency-based instruction (Pace & Worthen, 2014). In addition, school principals likewise are not trained for the rigorous demands of leading such radical systemic change. Becoming a competency-based leader requires administrators be change agents, by empowering educators, providing individualized supports, and seeking out resources necessary to ensure personalized learning exists for each student. Although critical to successful
15


implementation, these types of leadership development programs are not common in higher education principal prep programs (Pace & Worthen, 2014). Without a doubt, finding and training a competent workforce is a critical, yet very difficult task for those districts adopting competency-based education. At the same time, issues surrounding student equity need to be considered.
Systems that implement a competency-based design must be aware of potential equity issues. It is true that equity is a central driver of competency-based learning in that it attempts to eliminate harmful variations seen across systems in determining adequate attainment of a high school diploma. Competency-based models provide predetermined student performance standards, ensuring consistency exists across schools and districts (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015).
With this said, personalized performance-based approaches to learning create the scenario where some students can be left behind (Sturgis et al., 2011). Unless strong gap-filling practices are in place to ensure added supports exist for struggling students, variations in pacing risk enhancing the persistent achievement gap seen today (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015).
Without a doubt competency-based education is not easy to implement. Gamering support for an innovative systematic change and finding the right personnel to lead it out is difficult. At the same time, schools must develop high quality point-in-time assessments, implement successful individualized learning plans, and ensure teachers are proficient with large amounts of data. Finally, misalignment with state departments of education as well as universities poses additional problems, as does finding student information systems tailored to a competency-based model. In addition, since competency-based education is still not common, no how-to manuals for implementation exist, leaving those districts that attempt the reform largely to their own devices. With this said, several have attempted to implement, and each a little differently. These early adopters provide unique perspectives worth looking at.
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Varying Implementation Models Across the Country
Chugach School District (CSD) in Alaska, a small rural district geographically spread out across large portions of wilderness, was the first district to adopt competency-based education (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). CSD implemented their performance-based (the term they use) model in 1995 as an attempt to increase student achievement, ensure their graduates were college-ready, and to curb annual high turnover of faculty (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Students were expected to demonstrate competency over ten levels within ten subject domains. Grade levels were replaced with a system where students move through the levels and domains on individual tracks.
Teachers were provided high levels of autonomy in how they use curriculum and instructional strategies they believed best helped their students achieve mastery in each domain. Student competency is measured using a system of district-created assessments, student performance portfolios, and the professional judgment of classroom teachers. Students work is scored using Webbs Taxonomy, a cognitive demands tool that measures depth of knowledge for particular subjects (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Five years after initial adoption, student achievement rose from the 20th to 70th percentile, students participating in college entrance exams went from 0% to 70%, and teacher turnover dropped 43% (Sturgis, Patrick, & Pittenger, 2011). Clearly an improvement, but CSDs early successes also made other school districts take closer looks at what was happening up in Alaska.
Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) resides in Californias Central Valley, about one hour drive south of Fresno. It serves 4,100 students in eight schools and began its competency-based education reform in 2009 with only the incoming 9th grade class at Lindsay High School (Sturgis et al., 2011). Like CSD, Lindsay refers to their model as performance-based, and adopted under the premise that students leam in different ways and in different timeframes (Sturgis et al., 2011). Using the California state standards as a guide, the district created academic units of study, known as Measurement Topics for all K-12 content areas, as well as
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specific knowledge and skills used to demonstrate competency (Sturgis et al., 2011). In its second year of implementation, LUSD used an accordion method of adoption where the reform was introduced from 7th through 10th grade, and the following year across the entire district (Sturgis et al., 2011). LUSC embedded professional development for teachers within professional learning communities, created new grading rubrics, and provided additional classroom supports to ensure high degrees of personalized learning. They introduced adult learner competencies for all staff and personalized professional development to help model the competency design (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). After just a few years, student achievement began to rise (Sturgis et al., 2011). At the same time as LUSD was experiencing its early success, an online school in Florida was also implementing its own version of competency-based education.
The Florida Virtual School (FLVS) adopted a competency-based learning platform where students work remotely toward mastery in traditional subject domains. Students can enroll and start coursework any day of the year. Also, there are no set time structures to classes, which allows for students to proceed through their studies at their own pace. Finally, teachers create individualized learning plans and systems of support uniquely tailored to each student (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). But beyond this model of competency-based education, FLVS also implemented a performance-based funding structure, where the school only receives funding after its students successfully complete a course (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). This funding structure provides a unique incentive for the school to be responsive to each students need and to find individualized interventions for those students falling behind or becoming academically stagnant (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). This reality increased the efficiency of the education model. The Florida Tax Watch reported FLVS produced a higher return on taxpayer dollars, even when educating a high number of under-served students, while producing better learning results (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). But beyond single schools and districts, some state boards and departments of education have become interested in competency-based education.
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In 2005 the state of New Hampshire completely eliminated the Carnegie unit, taking a daring step toward a complete redefinition of its public education system (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). With the traditional time-based system of school architecture gone, the state adopted a competency-based system to replace it, where students earn credit toward graduation not on seattime but demonstrated mastery, both in and out of the classroom (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). The state modeled its competency-based approach with three central tenets: 1) personalization, 2) students as active learners, and 3) choice and flexibility for where and when learning occurs (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011, p. 12). Of the many lessons learned out of New Hampshire, one of the largest was innovation doesnt always come voluntarily. The state board of education provided districts flexibility with their credit design and transitional plans after the initial 2005 competency-based adoption. By 2008, most districts were still using seat-time as a way to award academic credit, prompting the state board to mandate that only competency be used for successful completion of a high school diploma (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). The lesson learned, simply enabling policy was not enough for districts to innovate. Instead, they needed to require adopting the competency-based model, while also being provided the necessary supports from the state to battle the unavoidable implementation challenges (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011).
The final implementation model this study will consider is the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), a local education agency established to help turn around Michigans lowest performing schools. The EAA provides these schools with increased flexibility and autonomy to eliminate structural realities seen as impeding student performance (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Much like the other examples provided, the EAA encourages schools to use a competency-based approach to award academic credit instead of traditional seat-time. The EAA Model is built upon five pillars:
1. Students are grouped by readiness, not by grade
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2. Students create and assume ownership for their respective personalized learning and success paths, and are able to communicate their progress relative to their individualized learning goals
3. Students are allowed to work at their own pace, using a blended delivery system, to master rigorous standards to ensure they graduate college, career, and next generation ready
4. Students provide evidence of mastery through relevant performance tasks and common assessments
5. Continuous feedback is provided to students, teachers, administrators, and parents through the teaching and learning and the data warehouse (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015, p. 25).
One aspect of the EAAs implementation is it distributed high degrees of autonomy to the schools within its system to implement the five central tenets to its competency-based education design. Within this autonomous control, the EAA provided schools with system-wide learning platform to support student learning, teacher monitoring of student progression, and easy-to-access data by which continuous improvement decisions can be made (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Learning From Those Who Went First
As seen with the above five examples of competency-based education implementation, similarities and differences exist across all systems. This is normal; especially since early reform efforts have few, if any prior examples to draw conclusions from. So, its not surprising that within these pioneer competency-based districts and schools, implementation strategies, attitudes, and beliefs vary. In fact, as Koenen stated in a 2015 article:
Research about the perceptions of CBE has concluded that each educational institution implements CBE at its own pace and according to its own beliefs. Moreover, within organizations, the implementation of CBE does not seem to be always entirely clear to
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members of the teaching staff or students. Different approaches to CBE and different interpretations of working with competences were found. (Koenen et al., 2015, p. 3). As competency-based education continues to gain in interest, and more schools and districts consider their own implementation practices, examining these differences can help provide unique insights for these systems as they design their adoption plans.
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CHAPTER III
METHODS
As stated previously, variations of practice exist among those systems that have implemented a competency-based education design. In 2009, Westminster Public Schools began implementation of CBE across all 12 of its elementary schools. Over the past seven years, the CBE design in these schools evolved and changed as principals and teachers worked through the successes and challenges of implementing this large scale reform. These experiences provide rich data for understanding CBE at the elementary level. This phenomenological case study analyzed the experience of three elementary schools in WPS as they adopted competency education. Through the experiences of the principals and teachers, WPS' operating definition of competency-based education was identified and compared to that of Competency Work's definition of high quality CBE. What strengths, weaknesses, successes, and challenges does WPS' CBE possess, and what implications can be drawn for other school district's considering a competency education model?
The purpose of this study was to better understand the practice of CBE in WPS elementary schools through the eyes of the educators directly charged with implementation. Specifically, the study aimed to answer the following research objectives:
o Primary research objective #1: Identify and compare the theoretical and
operational definitions of CBE across and within WPS elementary schools, both relative to the Competency Works best practices CBE definition, o Primary research objective #2: Identify and compare CBE implementation strategies across and within WPS elementary schools, o Research objective #3: Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation across and within WPS elementary schools.
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Research design
Since the desire of the study was to investigate personal experiences of CBE, a phenomenological case study was selected to best understand the working definition and implementation of CBE in WPS. The phenomenography of Marton (1981), which works to understand experiences as "conceptions of reality considered as categories of description to be used in facilitating the grasp of concrete cases of human functioning was selected to help evaluate and analyze the CBE experience in WPS (Marton, 1981, p. 177; Koenen et al., 2015). Based upon individual educator conceptions of CBE the study generated experiential descriptors, which were used to identify qualitative differences in educator perceptions of CBE definition and practice. Then, by categorizing these descriptors, the study sought to understand and analyze the definition and implementation strategies seen across the different educational settings in WPS (Marton, 1981).
Setting and Participants
Westminster Public Schools (WPS) is located in the central and southern regions of Westminster, Colorado, a suburb in the Denver Metro Area. WPS consists of 20 schools, with two high schools, three middle schools, 12 elementary schools, one K-8 innovation school, one early childhood center, and one online school. Total enrollment is 10,101 students, of which 73% are Hispanic, 18% white, 5% Asian, 1% African-American, and 1% American Indian. The district employs 540 teachers with an average of 13 years of teaching experience, of whom 76% hold advanced degrees (http://www.westminsterpublicschools.org/page/13). Three elementary schools were chosen for this study based upon principal selection criteria listed below.
Nine people from three elementary schools were interviewed, including three principals and six teachers. Principal and teacher selection was based upon longevity in current role. The study selected two principals based upon tenure in their current role that dates before WPS' 2009 CBE implementation. These original adopters provided unique insights into the early stages of
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the reform, as well as into the iterations CBE as taken as the district made adjustments after initial rollout. The third principal selected had tenure of only three years and provided insights of entering a school multiple years into the CBE implementation. Likewise, one teacher from each school was selected based upon tenure before the initial 2009 CBE implementation, and one teacher selected from each school was based upon tenure that began after initial adoption. Principals were asked to voluntarily participate and after their participation was secured, based upon the criterion above, each principal identified two appropriate teacher participants at their school, at which time their voluntary participation was requested. Each participant was interviewed individually resulting in a total of nine interviews.
Instruments
A semi-structured interview instrument was selected because it is an effective way to explore individual perceptions and beliefs regarding a complex topic such as CBE. Furthermore, the semi-structured interview process allows for additional probing and clarification of answers when needed (Barriball & While, 1994). The semi-structured interview guide adapted from Koenen, Dochy, & Berghmans (2015), which itself was adapted from Dochy and Nickmans (2005) research concerning CBE experiences was used (Koenen et al., 2015). Interview questions (see Appendix A) were generated to understand respondents definitions of instruction, assessment, and student competency within a CBE system, as well as key features that define a CBE environment. Furthermore, respondents were asked to identify successes and barriers seen in their school and in the WPS CBE model. The interview questions were designed to answer three primary research objectives (see Appendix B), and were modified slightly between Principal and Teacher to differentiate between building and classroom practices. An interview protocol (see Appendix C) was used to ensure uniformity across each interview, and all participants provided informed consent (see Appendix D) before their interview began. The semi-structured interview questions were open-ended to encourage more free-flowing dialogue as
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participants expressed their experiences of being CBE educators. Each interview took 60 minutes to complete, was audio recorded, transcribed, and coded for thematic identification. Finally, no participant was compensated in anyway for his or her participation in the study.
To ensure validity, an expert review of the instrument occurred to examine content validity of prompts and to ensure ambiguities, leading questions and general criticisms are discussed and corrected (Barriball & While, 1994, p. 333). In addition, this process also determined the following concerning the semi-structured interview questions and the principal investigator:
1. Whether respondents are willing to answer each of the questions throughout the interview
2. Whether the time allotted is sufficient for interview questions as well as for subsequent dialogue for clarification and probing questions
3. Whether or not the instrument effectively elicits respondents different perceptions, experiences, and beliefs concerning CBE definition and practice
4. The principal investigators interview ability in an actual interview setting Data-analysis
All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and coded for experiential descriptors based upon educator conceptions of CBE. First, data was triangulated between principal-to-principal (P-P), teacher-to-teacher (T-T), and principal-to-teacher (P-T) to capture the different experiences of CBE both in relation to definition and implementation within and across the three elementary schools. Second, data was compared and contrasted between original adopting teachers to the late adopting teachers (OAT-LAT), to identify if differences exist in perception, experience, definition, and implementation of CBE between early and late adopters. The hope was to identify and understand a) how individual beliefs concerning the theoretical and operational definitions of CBE vary across and within WPS, b) if and how CBE implementation
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practices vary across WPS classrooms and schools, and c) what successes, barriers, and adjustments have occurred across WPS schools and classrooms as they worked to implement CBE. Through a phenomenological analysis of the data and by contrasting CBE practices between participants and schools, the study provided unique understandings of CBE in WPS, as well as insights into broad systemic adjustments to improve CBE implementation.
Limitations
To begin, since this study chose to focus only on three elementary schools and more specifically, on three educators from each school the n-size was small. This low n-count can hinder the ability of the findings to be generalized across schools, school districts, and states. Although a limitation, for the purpose of this phenomenological study, nine participants were seen as adequate to gain a sense of the CBE experience of elementary school educators within WPS. In addition, due to the time-consuming nature of the semi-structured interview instrument, the n-count was kept low to ensure the principal investigator could complete data collection and analysis within the studys prescribed timeframe.
Since all data for this study was self-reported several issues may have arose with participant responses that could affect this studys validity. Self-reported data can be subject to selective memory (selectively remembering events of the past), telescoping (recalling single events throughout multiple events), attribution (associating positive outcomes to personal agency and negative outcomes to external agency), and exaggeration (embellishing of responses) (University of Southern California Libraries website, n.d.).
The interviewer effect must be considered in several different ways (Denscombe, 2010). To begin, since all responses were collected via face-to-face interviews, the possibility for social desirability bias may exist. This is especially true for this study since the interviewer is a principal in WPS. Participants may intentionally or unintentionally distorted their responses to better represent themselves in the case of principals to a colleague, or in the case of teachers to a
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district administrator. This could have potentially resulted in the data over-representing correct answers (Fisher, 1993). To mitigate this the use of indirect questioning was considered but ultimately rejected because indirect questions may actually reveal what respondents predict a typical other might do or think, versus specific insights into their own beliefs (Fisher, 1993, p. 304). Also, the semi-structured interview allowed for probing, which helped establish rapport between the interviewer and the respondent, reducing the risk of socially desirable answers (Barriball & While, 1994).
Another element of the interviewer effect that must be considered is possible bias the principal investigator may have possessed, especially since he is an elementary principal within the school district the research was conducted in. In any qualitative research design, it is possible for the researchers own theoretical position, interests, and political perspectives to affect the research questions and study design (Diefenbach, 2009, p. 876). In this case, the principal investigator mitigated such concerns by explicitly stating his implicit perspectives where necessary. Also, understanding that the principal investigators personal experience with CBE in WPS could possibly impact his construction of meaning when considering and interpreting the data, the principal investigator will work with the Center for Practice Engaged Education Research (C-PEER) at the University of Colorado, Denver to act as a critical reference group to ensure validity in the studys findings (Wadsworth, 1997).
Ethical Considerations
To begin, no participant was interviewed without first reviewing, discussing, and signing an informed consent form (see Appendix D). At this time, all participants were made aware of the purpose of the study, why they were selected to participate, that their participation was voluntary, that they could choose to not answer individual questions, and that they could stop the interview at any time. In addition, assurances of confidentiality were made as well a description of the intended use of the collected data to ensure each participant was knowledgeable about the
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scope and sequence of the study (Kaiser, 2009). Finally, to protect confidentiality, all participants remained anonymous in reported findings, including in the presentation of research, as well as in discussion and analysis. With this said, due to the small number of study participants and the fact the three elementary schools reside within the same district, there existed a probability for deductive disclosures, or internal confidentiality of participant responses (Tolich, 2004). To mitigate this concern a dominant approach was taken whereas participant confidentiality was protected during data collection, data cleaning, and dissemination of research results (Kaiser, 2009, p.4). All personal identifiers, descriptors, and details were removed to help protect internal confidentiality. If it became apparent, despite best efforts to remove personal identifiers, a particular data set was highly susceptible to deductive disclosure the data was not included in the studys published findings.
Next, the nature of semi-structured interviews required the interviewer to be respectful of the participants feelings, which could be personal and private. Toward this end, it was important for the principal investigator to establish a positive rapport with each participant, taking into consideration the possible exposure of personal vulnerabilities simply by answering the interview questions. Each participants perceptions were respected throughout the research study, and recognized as unique and valuable (Newton, 2010). It was important that the participants understood the principal investigator was trustworthy, professional, and would not compromise their confidentiality at any point during the research process.
Trustworthiness
As mentioned earlier, the principal investigator of this study is an elementary principal in the district where the research was be conducted. Although this could have led to potential limitations, it also increased trustworthiness. A key criterion for internal validity is that of credibility, which was achieved because the principal researcher was familiar with the organization, its culture, people, and customs. When a prolonged engagement between
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researcher and organization exists, the establishment of trust between parties is more likely, creating a higher propensity for honesty and candidness of interviewee responses (Shenton, 2004, p. 65). At the same time, participants were assured before and during the interview that their thoughts would remain confidential, increasing the likelihood of truthful responses. In addition, the working knowledge of the principal investigator of WPS CBE practices, systems, and policies allowed for more detailed specific, rich dialogue to occur during the semi-structured interview process. Next, triangulation occurred between the positions of selected educators, as well as the schools they work within. Seeking a broad range of people and locales produced a diverse collection of viewpoints, providing a data set that allowed for experiences to be verified against others (Shenton, 2004). First, since both principal and teacher perspective was documented, triangulation between positional roles could occur. Also, since multiple schools participated, further site triangulation occurred to account for local factors. This cross sampling of WPS schools and educators ensured a wide spectrum of observations, leading to myriad of perspectives to draw conclusions from.
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CHAPTER IV
FINDINGS
As competency-based education becomes more widely adopted across K-12 school systems, one challenge for competency-based educators has been defining exactly what competency-based education is, and more importantly how best to implement it. In 2011, Competency Works, a project of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, convened 100 experts to create the following working definition of high quality competency education:
Students advance upon mastery.
Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students
Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions (Competency Works, n.d., p. 1).
With this definition in mind, variations of practice still exist among schools implementing competency-based education, and districts that adopt such reforms must be ready to embrace years of hard work as schools navigate the change process (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). In addition, currently very few K-12 schools and districts are competency-based, leaving those considering such a reform with few examples to learn from.
Westminster Public Schools (WPS), located in a suburb in the Denver metro area, is a medium sized district of 10,000 students. In 2009 WPS adopted a competency-based education
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model to achieve a learner-centered classroom that would create proficiency for every student (http://www.cbsadams50.org/need-for-change/). WPS' competency-based education model, known as CBS, combines four major components: 1) Leadership, 2) Shared Vision, 3) Competency Based Design, and 4) Continuous Improvement Cycle to help ensure students achieve at the highest levels (http://www.cbsadams50.org/our-cbs-model/). After seven years of implementation WPS educators have a unique experience to share concerning competency-based education, the successes, challenges, and what works during this level of systemic change. However, up until now a record of these unique experiences have not been readily available, leaving it difficult for other systems to learn from as they consider implementing their own competency-based designs. Toward this end, the WPS story needs to be told. Through these educators' experiences rich data for understanding CBE can be gleamed.
This phenomenological case study analyzed the experiences of three elementary schools in WPS as they adopted competency education. Interview responses from principals and teachers highlighted lessons learned, strengths and weaknesses of WPS' competency-based model, and insights for implementation for other districts hoping to make a competency-based reform. Specifically, the study aimed to answer the following research objectives:
o Primary research objective #1: Identify and compare the theoretical and
operational definitions of CBE across and within WPS elementary schools, both relative to the Competency Works best practices CBE definition, o Primary research objective #2: Identify CBE implementation strategies across and within WPS elementary schools.
o Research objective #3: Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation across and within WPS elementary schools.
In the following pages a narrative of this study's findings are presented, while Appendix E displays a complete listing of code frequencies for each interview prompt. Respondents were
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categorized into several groupings, including their position, tenure with the district, and site location. Two teachers from each school selected for the study were interviewed, including an original adopting teacher (OAT), or one who has been with WPS since the start of the competency-based reform, as well as a late adopting teacher (LAT), or one who started with WPS after initial implementation of CBS began. Finally, the principals from each selected site were interviewed, however were in the end not grouped by tenure due to deductive disclosure concerns. Since the study's participants included two original adopting principals and one late adopting principal, even with personal identifiers and descriptors removed, grouping principals by tenure would have allowed for easy deductive disclosure of the lone late adopting principal. Toward this end, all principals (AP) were grouped together regardless of tenure in the narration and appendices below.
The findings begin by focusing on the respondents' beliefs concerning both the theoretical and operational definitions of competency-based education in their school and classrooms, followed by discussion of their competency-based implementation, specifically elements of competency-based instruction and assessment. Finally, a focus is placed on the educators' successes and barriers with these elements, as well as WPS's competency-based design and implementation efforts in general.
Definition of CBE
When defining CBE theoretically (2 OAT, 1 AP) discussed academic progression being based upon student demonstration of competency in particular subject contents and that time is the variable, not the constant in a student's education. Only two teachers (1 OAT, 1 LAT) mentioned how academic progression is dependent on the student demonstration of competency, however four teachers (2 OAT, 2 LAT) mentioned that time is the variable. Five teachers (3 OAT, 2 LAT) stated CBE theoretically is the individualization or personalization of education,
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and that specifically the instruction must meet each students level of academic competence, not their age-based grade level.
When looking at the operational definitions of CBE (2 AP) stated the operationally CBE consists of performance-based groupings with multi-aged classrooms, while (2 AP) discussed the individualization or personalization of learning, although one defined this occurring through differentiated instruction, while the other through variable academic progressions. Finally, two principals (2 AP) discussed how academic progression in their school is determined by student demonstration of competency in particular subject contents. Only one principal (1 AP) discussed student ownership (voice/choice in learning and goal-setting) as an operational attribute to CBE.
Three teachers (2 OAT, 1 LAT) stated CBE is operationally based upon performance-based groupings, while four teachers (1 OAT, 3 LAT) stated with current class sizes the individualization or personalization of learning is not possible. These teachers discussed how operationally speaking CBE consist of small group differentiation only. Four teachers (3 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed the role of student ownership as part of their operational CBE practices.
Student Grouping
An overwhelming number (3 AP, 2 OAT, 2 LAT) of respondents discussed the use of summative assessments to determine performance-based groupings into classrooms, specifically DIBELS and Scantron in Literacy, and Scantron in Math. Empower was mentioned by (1 AP) as a primary grouping mechanism and by (2 OAT) as a secondary grouping mechanism. Many respondents (2 AP, 1 OAT, 2 LAT) also discussed the use of the same summative measures to create small groups for differentiated instruction both within classrooms and also for pullout intervention services.
Performance-based groupings appear to be common across all schools surveyed. The primary mechanisms used for these groupings are Scantron and DIBELS. Several respondents (2 AP, 1 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed the need for, and the ability to keep student groupings fluid as
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new assessment data (both summative and formative) is compiled throughout the school year. Many respondents (2 AP, 1 LAT, 2 OAT) discussed the use of assessment data and performance-based groupings as a mechanism used to target differentiated instruction, while (2 OAT) discussed how performance-based groupings actually decrease the need for differentiation when entire classrooms have tight performance bands.
Academic Progression
Most respondents (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 2 AP) discussed student ownership and personalized learning through the use of data notebooks and student goal-setting as the tool for tracking and measuring academic progression. (1 AP, 2 OAT) discussed the importance of individualized progression pathways, and specifically the use of data notebooks to achieve this. At the same time, (1 LAT) mentioned how Backward Lesson Design principals are used to individualize academic progression of Learning Targets, while (3 OAT) discussed individualized learning, specifically that students assume ownership in their academic progression through individual goal setting and data tracking in student notebooks.
Define and Measure Student Competency
There was considerable variation in the answers provided by respondents when asked how to define and measure student competency. In fact, similar answers were provided for defining competency as were for measuring competency. For example, successful completion of Proficiency Scales was mentioned by (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 2 AP) as the primary way to define student competency, while two respondents (2 AP) said successful completion of Proficiency Scales was the primary mechanism for measuring student competency. When looking specifically at measuring student competency (2 AP) said competency is measured by the successful progression of learning targets within Empower, (1 AP, 1 OAT, 1 LAT) stated competency is measured through summative assessments, while (1 LAT) discussed the use of formative assessments to measure competency. At the same time, (1 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed
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competency in terms of mastery, specifically that competency is measured when a student successfully applies and/or demonstrates a skill at least 3 times in row. Finally, (1 OAT) stated student competency is measured through student-selected assessments. It is clear that across classrooms and schools there is not a clear measurement process in place for determining student competency. The situation is not much different when looking at defining student competency either.
Respondents were more aligned in regards to the definition of student competency. Most people (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 2 AP) referenced the successful completion of the Proficiency Scales as the definition of student competency. Other responses indicated competency to be defined by (1 AP) grade-level equivalency in particular subjects, and (1 OAT, 1 LAT) mentioned specific criteria, such as student is able to... or student understands... although both of these responses were in relation to the Proficiency Scales. (1 OAT) discussed in Key Features of Assessment that kids, ... are encouraged to be experts and to teach other kids what they know. Finally, (1 AP) discussed in Emphasis on Application of Knowledge and Development of Important Skills the need for teachers to have a solid understanding of what competency looks like not only in the level they teach, but also in the levels directly above and below to ensure the instruction is aligned to the teacher-identified proficiency of student performance levels. With this said, (1 LAT) mentioned in Successes and Barriers of CBE Assessment not being sure what differentiates a Score 2 from a Score 3 when determining student competency.
Key Features of CBE Instruction
Many respondents (2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP) discussed the use of performance-based groupings as a key feature to CBE instruction. More specifically (2 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) mentioned how performance-based groupings allow for targeted instruction and decreased the need for differentiation. In addition, (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP) discussed the use of performance-based groupings to determine small group instruction inside of the classroom, and more
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specifically the ability to individualize education through these groupings. Another common theme across most respondents (2 OAT, 2 AP) was creating student ownership into the learning process. Within this response (2 OAT, 2 AP) discussed student agency through the use of data notebooks for tracking learning and setting individual academic goals, while (1 AP, 3 OAT) discussed students being aware of their individual academic progression.
Emphasis on Application of Knowledge and Development of Important Skills
Respondents did not provide clear answers to this question. The most common response (2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP) discussed the use of differentiated assessments. Respondents focused on the students ability to demonstrate knowledge through a variety of methods, or in individual ways as the primary mechanism for CBE to apply knowledge and develop skills. Several teachers (2 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed the need for students to assume ownership in their academic progressions, while two (1 OAT, 2 LAT) stated following the academic progressions in the proficiency scales sufficed. Also, (2 AP, 1 LAT) mentioned project-based learning as the preferred method for emphasizing knowledge and developing skills. It is important to note that most of the respondents did not directly answer the question, limiting the ability of the study to draw clear conclusions surrounding this element of CBE (see Competency Works official definition) within the WPS competency-based system. Finally, the sole respondent (1 LAT) who did directly answer the question discussed how CBE doesnt require application of many skills because the application part of learning resides in a Score 4 (Score 3 determines official competency), so operationally speaking, once a student achieves a Score 3 they move on to next Learning Target.
Key Features of CBE Assessment
The most common response (2 AP, 3 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed the use of formative assessments. More specifically, (2 AP, 1 LAT, 1 OAT) mentioned the use of the Success Criteria and Proficiency Scales as the foundational block to build formative assessments from, (2 OAT, 1
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LAT) discussed the need to differentiate formative assessments to ensure personalized learning occurs, and (1 OAT) discussed the need to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge. Finally, (2 OAT, 3 LAT) discussed using formative assessment data to inform future instruction and/or to determine differentiation needs.
How CBE Assessment is used for Learning
By in large most respondents (3 AP, 2 LAT, 2 OAT) discussed the use of assessment data to determine performance-based groupings. Specifically, (2 AP, 1 LAT) discussed the use of summative assessments for student groupings, while (2 AP, 1 LAT) mentioned the use of formative assessments to make student-grouping determinations. Also, (1 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed how assessments are used to increase student ownership in the learning process, more specifically (1 OAT, 2 LAT) mentioned the use of assessment data to help students identify their own learning progressions, and where they are within the annual progression. In addition to performance-based groupings, (3 AP, 1 LAT, 3 OAT) discussed using assessment results to make data-driven instructional decisions. Within these responses, (2 AP, 1 LAT, 2 OAT) mentioned specifically the ability to use assessment results to differentiate instruction.
Successes and Barriers of CBE Processes and Tools
One principal (1 AP, 2 OAT, 1 LAT) felt their buildings were successful at building a schedule that allowed for effective performance-based groupings of students, and were also flexible enough to allow for the movement of individual students throughout the school year. At the same time (3 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed successes with creating environments that encouraged student ownership into the learning process. (2 AP, 1 OAT) believed this was achieved through student data notebooks and goal setting practices, while (2 AP, 1 LAT, 2 OAT) discussed the ability to create student-centered learning environments. Finally, (1 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed feeling successful with implementing WPS competency-based tools such as Empower and Proficiency Scales to promote student learning and academic progression.
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One common theme (2 AP, 2 OAT, 3 LAT) surrounded the challenges of individualizing and/or differentiating instruction. The reasons for this varied. First, (2 AP) discussed the challenges surrounding teacher willingness to give up control of the classroom to allow for true student-centered learning. Several teachers (1 OAT, 2 LAT) discussed struggles with creating meaningful independent classwork as the reason for remaining with teacher-centered instruction, while (1 LAT) mentioned the difficulties implementing daily differentiation, especially with high degrees of learner diversity as the reason for not providing a student-centered learning environment. (1 OAT, 1 LAT) believed class sizes were too large to effectively manage personalized learning, while another (1 OAT) discussed not being able to know all kids well enough to effectively differentiate. At the same time, (3 LAT) discussed how ineffective performance-based groupings lead to challenges with differentiation. Finally, another barrier felt by many (2 AP, 2 OAT, 1 LAT) was the challenge of moving beyond traditional education structures. Specifically, (1 AP, 1 LAT) discussed the seemingly annual changes to WPS definition and/or implementation initiatives of CBE, while (2 AP, 2 OAT) discussed the friction between WPS CBE model and the traditional grade level model of education, (2 AP) mentioned specifically how parents and/or teachers struggle to move beyond grade level thinking, and at the same time (1 AP, 2 OAT) discussed the challenges of operating in a non-grade level system when state assessments, education policy, and higher education do. These concerns led to (2 OAT, 1 LAT) discussing the challenges of CBE, specifically with feeling the need to expose below grade level students to grade level material for state testing purposes (2 OAT), or the challenge of constantly having to gap-fill missing competencies for so many students (1 LAT).
Successes and Barriers of CBE Instruction
By in large most respondents felt successful with creating personalized learning environments through the use of CBE instructional practices. More specifically (2 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed effectively using performance-based groupings to target instruction at the individual
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student level, (1 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) stated the CBS tools of Proficiency Scales, Success Criteria and student exemplar rubrics create student awareness of their own individual academic progressions, while (1 AP, 1 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed the use of data notebooks to increase student ownership in learning.
The common barriers discussed focused on logistics, specifically in relation to data tracking and a feeling of not having enough time. Specifically (2 AP, 1 LAT) discussed challenges surrounding Empower, more specifically ensuring accurate up-to-date student data exists to make future instructional decisions from. Several people discussed the challenge of implementing balanced instructional practices, either due to too large of class sizes (1 OAT, 1 LAT) or not enough time to plan (1 LAT, 1 AP). Another common barrier was an inability to individualize instruction. The reasons for this varied between not enough time (2 AP, 1 LAT) and/or too large of class size (1 OAT, 1 LAT). Finally (2 AP, 1 LAT) discussed the challenges of working with CBS Tools (Proficiency Scales, Success Criteria, Unit Planning) and (1 AP) the need to coordinate these with traditional curriculums.
Successes and Barriers of CBE Assessment
The conversation surrounding successful use of CBE assessment practices focused primarily on two factors. First, (2 AP, 1 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed how the use of CBE assessment provided a good picture of what students know and are able to do. Several respondents (1 AP, 1 LAT, 1 OAT) believed this accurate account of student performance creates an environment where effective differentiated instructional practices can occur, while others (2 LAT, 1 OAT) believe it results in better instructional planning. Finally, (1 AP) discussed successfully using assessment results to create meaningful performance-based groupings, and (1 OAT) felt successful using the Proficiency Scales and Success Criteria to increase student ownership in the learning process.
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Several barriers were discussed in relation to CBE Assessment. To begin, many respondents discussed not having enough time to: a) adequately assess students, especially on an individual basis (3 OAT, 1 LAT), b) use assessment data to personalize future instruction (1 AP, 2 OAT, 2 LAT) and c) adequately record and track student data in Empower for teachers, and student data notebooks for students (2 AP, 1 OAT, 2 LAT). In addition to feeling there is not enough time, (1 AP, 1 LAT) discussed the difficulty in measuring student competency, specifically (1 LAT) discussed struggling to determine the difference between a Score 2 and Score 3 on student work, while (1 LAT) mentioned the difficulty in creating effective rubrics in kid-friendly terms. It is also important to note (1 LAT) discussed challenges of creating student exemplars to measure student competency when responding to Success Barriers of CBE Instruction. Finally, (3 AP) discussed challenges of creating meaningful assessments. More specifically (2 AP) have concerns about assessment promoting student ownership, while (1 AP) has concerns that a high degree of reliability does not exist between classroom assessment practices.
Largest Barriers to CBE Implementation
Time was the single most discussed barrier to CBE implementation. Most respondents (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP) stated there isnt enough time to adequately individualize or differentiate instruction. (Note: at the same time, (1 AP, 1 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed challenges to individualizing education because class sizes are too high). A second challenge mentioned was the nature of CBE not working in relation to traditional schooling. (2 AP, 1 OAT) mentioned the need for CBS to be contorted to work within existing education policies/norms, and the stresses this reality places on the district, school, and classroom.
Five respondents (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP) mentioned class size fourteen separate times as a barrier to successful implementation of CBS. When looking at the responses many people (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP) were concerned about their ability to effectively individualize and/or
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differentiate instruction with such high student numbers. Several respondents didnt specifically mention class size, however the barriers discussed in their answers were results of high-class size. These included: (1 LAT) discussed the challenges of keeping up with the amount of gap-filling so many students need; others (1 LAT, 2 OAT) mentioned the struggle to differentiate instruction down to the individual level, especially concerning each students individual competency in relation to the daily learning objective; (1 OAT) discussed the challenges of providing too many students effective voice/choice; while (1 OAT, 2 LAT) mentioned a decreased ability to adequately goal-set with such high-class sizes; (2 LAT, 2 OAT) discussed challenges in providing individualized and/or differentiated assessments due to class size.
Finally, (2 AP, 1 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed data management issues with Empower, specifically the amount of students to adequately record, and/or individualize future instruction from the data collected.
Seven respondents (3 OAT, 2 LAT, 2 AP) discussed time, or a lack of it seventeen separate times as a barrier to overcome in relation to CBE implementation. Responses focused on an inability to implement the central tenets of CBE. Specifically mentioned was: the ability to effectively individualize/differentiate instruction (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP); while (2 OAT, 2 LAT,
1 AP) discussed not having enough time to individualize and/or differentiate assessments; (2 AP,
2 LAT, 1 OAT) mentioned not having enough time to create meaningful, diverse learning environments that is structured for individualized learning; while (3 AP, 3 LAT) discussed challenges with the amount of time it takes to manage large amounts of student data, both for instructional planning and data recording into Empower; (1 AP, 3 LAT) discussed not having enough time to work individually with students regarding goal-setting and/or updating their student data notebooks.
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What adjustments can be made to CBS?
Several themes arose from the responses concerning possible adjustments to WPSs competency-based implementation. First, (1 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed the challenges of individualizing instruction with class sizes as high as they are, and believed if lowered, successful implementation of CBE practices would increase. Second, (1 AP, 1 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed the need to decrease the amount of modifications and changes made to WPS competency-based model, as well as decrease the number of annual implementation initiatives. Finally, (1 AP, 2 OAT) spoke about the need for more time and opportunity to collaborate with other teachers in their school, but also with teachers from other schools in the district. There was a belief that this type of collaboration would aid in more successful implementation of the new CBS tools, processes, and district initiatives.
Conclusion
Looking through the interview responses it is clear that many similarities and differences exist amongst the WPS educators in relation to their competency-based education beliefs and practices. Several areas of note will be discussed further in the practitioner paper attached to this study, specifically: a) the differences between the theoretical and operational definitions of the participants, as well as to the Competency Works definition of competency-based education, b) the defining and measuring of student competency within and across WPS classrooms, and c) the challenge large class sizes present to CBS implementation across WPS.
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CHAPTER V
DISCUSSION
In May 2013 the Colorado State Board of Education adopted new high school graduation guidelines, to be fully implemented by 2021. Among many considerations, two specific guidelines stated that districts must provide a "recognition of multiple and diverse pathways to a diploma and an "articulation through a standards-based education system (Grad Guidelines, 2013, p. 2). Also specified was schools "must state the minimum academic competencies needed for students to demonstrate postsecondary and workforce readiness and the types of measurements used, as well as "must allow students multiple, equally rigorous and valued ways to demonstrate competency of the knowledge and skills necessary for postsecondary education and meaningful careers (Grad Guidelines, 2013, p. 2). These new guidelines represent a potential paradigm shift for public schools in Colorado, and present a unique opportunity for competency-based education (CBE) to be more widely adopted.
Starting in 2021, Colorado high school students must demonstrate mastery in core subjects, even if they already earned an acceptable grade in that course. The old saying "D's earn degrees may no longer be true. Leading up to 2021, schools and districts need to know if their students will be able to demonstrate mastery across core-subjects, and if not, what gaps must be fdled. One educational reform districts can consider is a competency-based education approach. In competency-based systems, schools replace the traditional time- and age-based student academic progressions with one that instead uses student mastery as the primary determination for advancement. According to Competency Works, at its very core competency-based education uses student mastery of measureable learning targets as the metric to determine academic progression, not seat-time in a class (Competency Works, n.d.). Since students can no longer advance with only 60% mastery, in a competency-based system all graduates will be able to meet
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the new high school graduation guidelines setout by 2021. With this said, implementing such a reform is not easy.
One challenge is defining exactly what competency-based education is, and how it should be practiced. In 2011, Competency Works, a project of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, convened 100 experts to create the following working definition of high quality competency education:
Students advance upon mastery.
Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students
Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions (Competency Works, n.d., p. 1).
With this definition in mind, variations of practice still exist among schools implementing competency-based education, and districts that take on such endeavors must be ready to embrace years of hard work as schools manage the adoption process (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). In addition, currently very few systems are competency-based, leaving schools or districts wishing to adopt such a measure with few examples to leam from.
Westminster Public Schools (WPS), located in a suburb in the Denver metro area, is a medium sized district of 10,000 students. After years of low state test scores and a persistent achievement gap, in 2009 WPS adopted a competency-based education model to achieve a learner-centered classroom that would create proficiency for every student
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(http://www.cbsadams50.org/need-for-change/). WPS' competency-based education model, known as CBS, combines four major components: 1) Leadership, 2) Shared Vision, 3) Competency Based Design, and 4) Continuous Improvement Cycle to help ensure students achieve at the highest levels (http://www.cbsadams50.org/our-cbs-model/). After seven years of implementation, WPS educators have learned a lot about competency-based design, specifically the successes and challenges encountered during such a reform. However, the knowledge of these educator experiences is not readily available, leaving it difficult for other systems to leam from as they consider their own competency-based designs. Toward this end, there exists a need for the WPS story to be told. These experiences provide rich data for understanding how one school district implemented competency-based education.
This case study analyzed the experience of three elementary schools in WPS as they adopted competency-based education. Interview responses from principals and teachers highlight lessons learned, strengths and weaknesses of the WPS' competency-based model, and insights for other K-12 districts hoping to implement a competency-based reform. Specifically, the study aimed to answer the following research objectives:
o Primary research objective #1: Identify and compare the theoretical and
operational definitions of CBE across and within WPS elementary schools, both relative to the Competency Works best practices CBE definition, o Primary research objective #2: Identify and compare CBE implementation strategies across and within WPS elementary schools, o Research objective #3: Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation across and within WPS elementary schools.
Since the desire of the study was to investigate school experiences of implementing a competency-based education design, a phenomenological case study was selected to best understand the working definition and implementation of CBE in WPS. The phenomenography
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of Marton (1981), which works to understand experiences as "conceptions of reality considered as categories of description to be used in facilitating the grasp of concrete cases of human functioning was selected to help evaluate and analyze the CBE experience in WPS (Marton, 1981, p. 177; Koenen et al., 2015). Based upon individual educator conceptions of CBE the study generated experiential descriptors, which were used to identify qualitative differences in educator perceptions of CBE definition and practice. Then, by categorizing these descriptors, the study sought to understand and analyze the definition and implementation strategies seen across the different educational settings in WPS (Marton, 1981).
Nine people from three elementary schools were interviewed, including three principals and six teachers. Initial selection of principals and teachers was based upon tenure in current position and number of years spent within WPS's CBS implementation. Two teachers from each site were selected to participate, including an original adopting teacher (OAT), or one with WPS since the start of the competency-based reform, as well as a late adopting teacher (LAT), or one with WPS after initial implementation of CBS began. Principals however were not grouped by tenure because a low n-count created deductive disclosure concerns. Each participating principal was asked to voluntary join the study and to identify two appropriate teachers at their school who also voluntarily agreed to participate. Each respondent was interviewed individually, resulting in a total of nine interviews for the study.
A semi-structured interview instrument was used because of its ability to explore individual perceptions regarding the complex topic of CBE. Furthermore, the semi-structured interview process allowed for additional probing and clarification of answers when needed (Barriball & While, 1994). A semi-structured interview guide was adapted from Koenen, Dochy, & Berghmans (2015), which itself was adapted from Dochy andNickmans' (2005) research concerning CBE experiences (Koenen et al., 2015). Interview questions (see Appendix A) were generated to understand respondents' definitions of instruction, assessment, and student
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competency within a CBE system, as well as key features that define a CBE environment. Furthermore, respondents were asked to identify successes and barriers seen in their school and in the WPS CBE model in general. The interview questions were designed to answer three primary research objectives (see Appendix B), and were modified slightly between principals and teachers to differentiate between building and classroom practices.
The following summary was generated from the findings of A phenomenological case study of competency-based approaches to education: A ground-based look at one public school district. Reference this report for a complete listing of data findings, code frequencies, and participant responses. Since this phenomenological case study aimed to understand the personal experiences of these elementary educators working within a competency-based education system, much consideration was taken for how best to represent their thoughts. After careful review of the participants responses, it became evident that their story could best be told through their own voices. Toward this end, the following discussion of findings uses direct quotations from the interviews to ensure the unique experiences of these CBE educators are described as they see it. Discussion of Findings
It is important to begin with a discussion concerning the definition of competency-based education. Recognizing the complexity of implementation, the study first setout to determine if participants theoretical definitions of CBE varied from their operational definitions. Second, the study aimed to discover how closely these operational definitions aligned to the Competency Works definition of high quality CBE.
Participants identified several different theoretical elements. First, CBE determines academic progression only by a students demonstrated competency in particular subject contents. One teacher mentioned how, As they [students] demonstrate proficiency on all the targets in a level they can move on to the next level. Theoretically its at your own pace learning while another said, Well I guess the most concise definition is students, in order that
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they move forward in a competency-based model show proficiency in their current level before moving onto the next one. At the same time, others highlighted how CBE personalizes learning through differentiating instruction to meet academic need, instead of chronological grade level.
I think the piece is you are teaching the kids where theyre at, that you are focused on making sure that you meet their needs and move them forward, instead of setting the bar and then expecting them to meet it just because of chronological age. Another teacher discussed how competency-based education is A system that organizes instruction and groups based on the levels students are performing at, not necessarily their age. This opposed to an aged-based system where they are moving forward because they turned a certain age. Discussion also focused on the need for time to be variable. Its that learning is constant, time is variable. Kids can move through their education at their own speed, so its personalized. A principal mentioned individualized instruction too. Theoretically it [competency-based education] would be allowing a student to achieve standards at their instructional level and an instructional pace that is right for the child... [while] students have a voice in choosing how they show their work or demonstrate proficiency, in what they choose to work on based on interest as it relates to a standard while another said, You can think of student leadership when you think of competency-based education. In summation, one teacher described CBE as Kids moving at their own pace and getting what they need, when they need it. Also, us supplying them with the things that they need; it might not look the same as it does for their neighbor, so just making sure that every student is ready to go, or if a student needs some extra help to be successful, that we are providing that for them. With these theoretical definition ideas in mind, it is interesting to see how CBE was described after being put into practice.
Both successes and challenges were highlighted as participants described their CBE environments. Most operational definitions began with performance-base grouping students by assessment results. These multi-aged learning environments decreased the need for
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differentiation. One teacher said, In my room right now I have multiple age levels who are pretty much at the same performance level, which does make it easier to differentiate because I dont have a lot of different academic levels. But within these classrooms students still grow at the different rates. This creates a need for re-grouping throughout the year as students progress at their own speed. Referencing this, one teacher discussed the importance of ensuring a constant movement of students from classroom to classroom, where they can best get their needs met, where they can have all those resources that are individualized for them, while a principal discussed the need to support this through schedule design. So you end up with a much more fluid schedule, a much more complicated master schedule where students dont necessarily have one teacher, they usually have two and the age groups can vary in the classrooms by a couple of years. Operationally speaking, performance-based groupings were a defining factor of CBE. Another operational element was the creation of a personalized learning environment.
As the participants described individualizing education, both successes and challenges were detailed. To begin, many believed CBE generates awareness by students of the learning process, as well as ownership. One teacher said, So thats an important part, giving kids those skills where they can independently figure out what they need for their independent levels, which is very different from a traditional classroom where the whole class is learning the same thing. Most often this awareness was achieved through goal setting and tracking of academic progress in data notebooks. One principal stated, [What] I really believe in is the ownership of the kid, you know, student ownership of learning in our system is big. So we do a lot for that. We set goals. Every kid has a data notebook and in their data notebook they will have multiple goal setting, action plans, and data trackers. The participants discussed multiple benefits to student ownership. First, in a CBE system students know their learning levels and the steps needed to gain proficiency. One teacher discussed how goal setting is Having kids know where theyre
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going, and having kids know what they need to do to fill gaps. Because you have kids at the same [performance] level, but they all have different needs, so making sure that they know what they need. While another said, A really great part of the [CBE] system is kids know where theyre at, [and] if they are tracking what theyre doing, it should never be a surprise to them of what they need to work on. Student goal setting was also discussed in relation to differentiated instruction. One teacher mentioned how students Have goals based upon where they are, so some students are forming sentences while others are still writing words. So I typically have them set goals and we meet together in groups to work on their goals. The educators also expressed how goals increased student buy-in. One teacher stated that Part of the goal setting is that motivation piece, while another described how when they [student] pull up the snapshot of their goal and watch their graph go up, thats exciting, because they want their graph to go up... sometimes kids will ask if I can make them a test so they can prove they are proficient, which is really awesome.
Respondents discussed challenges as well. One of these was the difficulty of creating an individualized learning environment, specifically not having enough time to effectively differentiate for each student. One teacher said, Operationally, especially with high class sizes it [individualized education] is tough. Knowing 25 students in a class it just becomes very difficult to manage. Another mentioned how hard it is To be able to know each student and where theyre at, and not just in reading but math, and science, and now personal/social skills, all while monitoring behaviors. Many respondents described achieving personalized learning through strategic small group instruction. One teacher said they cannot differentiate instruction down to the individual student, so operationally individual instruction occurs more through centers, activities, small groupings, and different choice activities. While another said, Im tailoring a lot of my instruction, direct instruction and practice into small groups. So that is one way Im trying to be true to that individualized education piece. For one teacher, the struggles to
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personalize learning resulted with whole group instruction. But again, getting this down to the individual level is hard because in theory, not every kid should be working on the same targets at the same time, but managing that all and knowing where each kid is, or should be is hard. So then I fall back to the whole group thing still. So, were all going to do this together now, instead of trying to individualize. Clearly the ability to differentiate to the individual level is difficult and hinders the ability to deliver individualized instruction. Challenges to personalization were also discussed in relation to time being variable.
Many believed that when kids are performing below grade-level time must be a factor. Time, Id like to say is variable, however realistically with the school year only being so long, I have to make determinations about how long we spend on a learning task before moving on and sometimes that requires us to move on before every kid is proficient. Another teacher expressed concern saying And you know I mean, I dont know. I just want for them, if youre behind in your performance levels, kids dont have unlimited time. They have to get caught up, so there is that feeling of pressure. I think we feel if we cant get kids to a certain point by a certain time, then I dont know. Clearly, the true variability of time is in question when external forces pull on the implementation of a competency-based system.
In conclusion, the studys participants theoretically defined CBE as personalized learning with individualized academic progressions determined by student competency on specific content standards. However, operationally speaking CBE is more defined by multi-aged performance-based groupings, which leads to a decreased need for differentiation. With this said, personalized education is most often realized through small group instruction due to time and class size constraints. Finally, student ownership in the learning process is generated through goal setting practices and individual tracking of academic progressions in data notebooks. Clearly, variations exist between the respondents theoretical and operational definitions of CBE. However with
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this in mind, it is important to see how the operational definitions compare to Competency Works' definition of CBE.
The five high quality CBE elements as defined by Competency Works are listed below with discussion surrounding how the study's respondents' theoretical and operational definitions compared.
Students advance upon mastery
Participants' primary theoretical defining characteristic of CBE focused on mastery serving as the prerequisite for academic progression. Several summarized this belief by stating in a CBE environment "Time is the variable, while learning is the constant". One principal discussed the ability to re-group classrooms mid-year after new assessment data is collected. "We revisit those data points periodically throughout the year, usually BOY, MOY, EOY, [and] we make those shifts. So I think in terms of being able to flexibly group kids, allowing them to move at their own pace other than the traditional one-year-boom, one-year-boom, we do have those in place as well". Although student advancement upon mastery was discussed, challenges exist in the management of this, especially with high-class sizes. Identifying individual need, tracking student progress, and differentiating support for 25 or more students was unmanageable for many of the participants. "For me to keep track of where each kid is individually is very hard, because if I am going to help guide their individual instruction, I need to know where each kid is... So my class works in groups, so it is not as individualized as I had hoped, or would like it to be... They keep their scores individually, but I have had to keep track of [student] progress in groups". It is also important to note that disparities existed between participants in relation to how student competency is defined and measured, a topic that will be discussed in further detail later.
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Competencies include explicit, measureable. transferable learning objectives that empower
students
Most respondents discussed competencies in relation to the Learning Targets (academic standards) embedded within WPS Proficiency Scales. The Proficiency Scales, created by WPS educators, organize student competencies into thematically grouped Learning Targets, and establish foundational skills that progress up to those Learning Targets that require higher-order thinking and are used to determine competency. Embedded into the Scales are Success Criteria, or can-do descriptors for each Learning Target that are explicit, measureable, and transferable. Several of the respondents discussed their use of the Proficiency Scales. I use the Success Criteria on the Proficiency Scales. I do every single step of the Success Criteria... because when you are teaching the very beginning of reading and math skills, students have to have every piece. So I work with them and we climb every ladder. Another teacher discussed how the Scales are used to determine student-learning progressions. I mean we have Common Core, but it is so big and so broad... [so] I take a look at the details within the Proficiency Scales and those progressions to see what comes next. Finally, another teacher spoke how the Scales empower student learning, specifically by identifying each step a student must take to develop competency. I think the Proficiency Scales lend themselves really well to the development of skills, because they have those steps that they [students] build upon. You have the first steps that you go over the terminology were going to use, and then you move onto to step 2, then step 3. Clearly, through the use of Proficiency Scales, WPS has implemented explicit and measureable competencies, that through the instructional practices of student ownership discussed earlier, empower students.
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Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students
Theoretically, respondents overwhelmingly believe assessments must be differentiated to ensure students are provided individual avenues to demonstrate competency. One principal discussed how CBE Has the ability for kids to show you what they know in a way that works best for them, while another teacher stated, I think that the biggest thing I try to focus on is having multiple assessments. I give my kids multiple ways to show me what they know; its not just a paper/pencil test at the end of a unit. In addition, respondents believe CBE must provide opportunities for students to analyze their academic performance to better understand their own learning progressions. Definitely the most successful is them [students] being able to evaluate themselves on their proficiency levels... [to] determine this is where Im at, this is where Im going, and they use the Proficiency Scales through out the day to see how well they understand something. Another element of differentiated assessment focused on the need to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate competency. So instead of giving a big assessment to everyone, where I say OK if you pass this assessment you get the target, and some kids will do it, but other kids still dont understand it. So making sure that they have multiple chances, whether its another assessment or whether its a review of them telling me that they understand it. With this said though, as was the case with personalizing instruction, participants discussed challenges to personalizing assessments. Operationally, especially with the class size numbers we have its tough. Knowing, even getting through 25 students in a class period or two, to let them show you individually, it just becomes very difficult to manage, it becomes very challenging to allow every student to have their say, to show you what they can do. Another teacher highlighted this sentiment when discussing how they attempt to differentiate assessment by providing menu options, however struggle to effectively provide this to each student. And there is all those different ways kids can and should be able to show [learning]...So putting in huge menus of options for kids to do, which doesnt always happen, but ideally thats what I
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would like to get to. Clearly the educators understand the value of differentiating assessment, but struggle to adequately put into practice.
Finally, assessment data were used to determine performance-based groupings and intervention services. One principal highlighted this in detail by discussing how their school Will go through and create data cards for each student... [and] talk about each individual kid... we see kids who need the very same skills, then we group those kids and provide them the support through pullout or push-in, or co-teaching, or whatever it calls for to meet those kids needs. Another teacher discussed the use of assessment data to determine groupings for small group instruction. Based on initial assessment from the beginning of the year for reading groups, I group students based off their DIBELS and Scantron scores and all the other one-on-one assessment data, I group them into groups based upon proficiency in reading. So groups are grouped based upon what they need to work on. It is clear that the educators interviewed are using assessments in a variety of ways to create meaningful learning environments and opportunities for students to demonstrate competency in diverse ways.
Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs
Each respondent discussed a belief that a CBE environment needs to provide timely, individual, differentiated support, however operationally speaking, the challenges of not having enough time to provide a true personalized learning experience was real. In reference to this one teacher said, So just that one-on-one time, talking with the student, getting to know where theyre at, what their understanding is, not just of the topic itself but the tool youre using. And thats where it becomes a challenge to get to everybody in a timely manner, while still teaching the content. Another teacher uses student ownership to create an individualized environment. Operationally competency-based education is challenging. So [I] differentiate by giving kids choice-and-voice within their center work. Most participants described this defining element as the hardest to accomplish, yet also the one they believe to be most impactful.
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Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge.
along with the development of important skills and dispositions
Many respondents believed CBE promotes the development of important skills through student ownership of the learning process. So student-centered learning has to give kids resources, plus it has to give them a lot of opportunities to practice the skillset of good decisionmaking. Part of this process includes goal setting as several participants highlighted. Goal setting is a tremendous life skill for kids, whether they choose to go onto college or not, theyre setting goals. Theyre small goals but theyre goals, and this is something that will help kids drive into the future, while a principal discussed how Were trying to set the stage at the elementary level of a concept that I think is really built for future success in middle and high school. Because thats really what life is about, it is about setting goals, knowing what your future goals are, and what you need to do now to achieve them. At the same time, another principal discussed how students simply needing to demonstrate their competency before academically advancing helped develop important dispositions. I do think that saying you have to be able to do this to prove youre competent lends itself to those deeper taxonomy skills that you have to be able to do for higher learning. Finally, and in contrary to the other respondents, one teacher discussed a belief that CBE actually had a dampening effect on this defining element. I actually see it the other way. Since Ive been a part of the CBS model I feel like Ive actually been able to focus less on the application piece. I have not experienced that as an overt piece of a competency-based approach, it doesnt jump out at me as something that CBS is really about. This educator explained further that for students who are below grade level, getting caught up is most important. Many Learning Targets do not require a deeper application of knowledge to be measured proficient (Score 3), so they move on to the next target without gaining this. A lot of the standards dont necessarily emphasize application. So when youre looking at the
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progressions, a lot dont go to the level of a Score 4... [and] we are working real hard just to get to a Score 3. Sol dont feel that we are making that next step.
By in large the WPS participants agreed that their implementation of CBE aligned with Competency Works five defining elements of high quality CBE. Moving beyond the definitional elements, the next major findings focused on CBE implementation strategies seen across the schools and classrooms.
Performance-Based Groupings
As stated earlier, most participants discussed how operationally CBE begins with performance-based groupings. Respondents stated that grouping by content area decreased differentiation need since all learners within a room possess similar academic competencies.
We group students in a way that requires less differentiation. You dont have to worry about a six level spread in a room. So right there you can drive kids to a more tangible finish line... The competency-based system is strong in that it takes those goal posts and shrinks them significantly. With this said, participants expressed a belief that performance scores should not be the only grouping consideration. Several reasons for this existed, including a belief that multigrade level groupings should not exceed two years age difference. One principal mentioned, I dont believe that I can have 2nd through 5th graders in a class. Im not going to put 7 year olds with 12 year olds, so in my mind I have about a two grade level span that I will agree to place kids, unless they are an outlier. At the same time a teacher spoke how elementary aged children like being with like-aged peers. It is still hard juggling multiple levels or multi-aged classrooms. I see that having kids all in a similar performance level is good, but then having multi-aged rooms, I feel like that piece is hard. I have multiple grades in my room and sometimes I feel like the kids just want to be with their same-aged peers. In addition to age, others were cautious about grouping students only from performance-based data. A principal discussed how In the beginning I adopted a purist model, where I had 300 students so I ranked
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ordered 1-300 and cut it [classroom groupings] into 12 parts... that was a big mistake because I considered nothing else in the process. There is more to a room than a grade or performance level. You have to know personalities, who works with them at home, kids individual motivations and how are they going to get through this. Clearly the participants believe considerations other than student ability levels must be accounted for when generating student groupings, even if this increases the need for differentiation.
Another CBE structural design consideration focused on performance-base grouping students for each content area. Rarely does a student perform at the same level across all subjects. However, regrouping requires multiple transitions throughout the day, and diminishes the relationships teachers have with each child, both of which were viewed negatively by the elementary educators. In reference to this, one principal said The leveling of the kids, while also thinking these kids are still 8 years old and need to have relationships with the teacher, makes running a middle school type schedule hard. An 8 year old does not need have a class change every 40 minutes... we did that before, had 3 or 4 transitions during the middle of the day and our data was never worse because we lost the relationships, we lost the teacher knowledge of the kid. Another teacher spoke about this by saying So you know there is the art and science of teaching in a competency based system that really comes into play. You have to know your learners. I mean so back to the thing about grouping your kids, you have to know your learners, who can benefit from whole group, who is going to benefit from small group, and what kind of small group is that. Most of the schools surveyed do not utilize multiple mid-day transitions, so classroom groupings were determined by one content area only. Two schools grouped by literacy performance, while math was used in the third. This leads to a wider range of ability levels within a single room. Discussing this reality, one teacher said I struggle with the competency-based model because I feel like we are supposed to have more split up by a low-class and high-class, at least that is my impression of a competency-based model, but in reality
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we try to do that a little bit, but then we didnt go back and reorganize after initial groupings, so I have quite the range of abilities in my room. With this said, schools do utilize a mid-day transition for students testing significantly above or below the non-prioritized content area.
Another form of grouping is in relation to intervention services and small group instruction. Recognizing that students grow at different rates throughout the year, CBE requires groupings to be fluid. Speaking toward this, one teacher said, Ideally in a competency-based system you are changing your groups constantly, while another spoke about the need to Constantly look at data to make sure kids are grouped with, you know, you have those groups of kids that are working on similar things, but also understanding that even in a CBS system we really want kids working at their own levels. When considering these groupings, choosing the correct assessment data is important. All three schools discussed the use of skill-deficit metrics (i.e. DIBELS assessment results) to group reading intervention services, while two schools do the same for math intervention (i.e. Scantron). We will go through and create data cards for each student... well look at performance and look for the trends that are in all of those assessments, and then do a diagnostic like DIBELS Deep and really get it down to what is the actual skill to be working on with an individual child that will personalize it... the interventionists will then go work with the classroom teachers and out of that conversation you start to see groupings occur. One school uses gaps in Learning Target completion within Empower (student recording tool) to determine math intervention groupings. Referencing this grouping strategy, the principal said, The initial grouping is based upon completion of Learning Targets... so if youre looking at math you may have kids who are almost done with Level 3 grouped with kids who are not that far into Level 4. One challenge highlighted with using skill-deficit determinations for groupings arose when attempting to record a students academic progression. Several teachers struggled working within two systems, specifically because student progression in WPS is based upon completion of Learning Targets in Empower, which does not always align to literacy
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skillsets as measured by a DIBELS assessment. Discussing this one teacher said, [It} is a struggle because we have all these specific reading needs and then you have learning targets as well. So we are constantly trying to figure out how to mesh the two. This is a challenge in the CBS system, while another spoke about how The reading groups... [are] based on what they need for DIBELS, but Im also keeping in the back of my mind those Learning Targets that they need to meet in Empower, because DIBELS and Empower dont always match up. All participants believed performance-based grouping was a critical component to a CBE system, however variability existed with how schools group students into classrooms, as well as for intervention and small-group instruction. However, differences in implementation become even wider when looking at how student competency is defined and measured.
Defining and Measuring Student Competency
In many ways, abandoning the traditional time-bound Carnegie Unit in preference for a mastery-based academic progression is at the heart of a competency design. To better understand this unique feature, one of the structured interview questions asked participants how they define and measure student competency. When looking across the responses, variations existed. To begin, most participants defined competency as the successful completion of the WPS Proficiency Scales (a thematic grouping of Learning Targets). One teacher highlighted this by stating, It [competency] is defined to me in the Proficiency Scales. They state what a kid needs to do, while another said Something we are getting more towards this year is Success Criteria. Weve talked about delineating this line, here is the success criteria of what delineates proficiency. The Scales utilize a 1-4 scoring mechanism, whereas a Score 3 denotes competency. So when a student reaches a Score 3 as delineated by those [Proficiency Scales] progressions, they are competent when they have passed all the Learning Targets in that level with a Score 3. With this said, confusion existed amongst some participants concerning what qualifies a Score 3. One teacher spoke about how It can be difficult to know exactly what piece
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of student work is a Score 2 versus a Score 3, especially on items that are more complex... Im having trouble figuring out if it [student work] is overall a Score 2, or overall is a Score 3.
While another teacher defined student competency as a Score 2. They have to also be able to meet a Score 2 or higher on the Scale so that I know it is not just luck. In addition, how participants use the Proficiency Scales to define competency varied, leading to inconsistencies across the system. Several respondents defined competency as occurring only after a student can demonstrate new knowledge, or a particular skillset multiple times and across different settings. One teacher said, OK, you got this skill once, now show me two more times and you can move onto the next skill, while another spoke about students needing to Show me, tell me, then show me and tell me again, because I want to make sure its not a one-time snapshot, I want to make sure that they actually have the skill or competency. So, they have to show me, and I love it when they can show me a number of ways. Another teacher discussed defining competency through multiple avenues by saying, They have to have at least 3 pieces of evidence. If we take an assessment, they have to be able to show me that they can move backwards, you know, backwards solve it. Other responses attempted to define competency in relation to what students can do with the newly learned knowledge or skill. Student competency would be a demonstration that a student has gained the knowledge and skill of a particular learning target, and can apply it, while another discussed how, A competent student... is someone who can perform a certain task without any guidance, but isnt ready to teach someone else, but is confident enough in their knowledge that they can perform it 100% of the time independently. Finally, one principal discussed the importance of teacher insight into determining student competency. It goes back to how do we define competency? Is it a numerical score? Im not going to say that. Im not going to say you have to have an 80% on this quiz to be competent. But the teacher has to have a sense that this kid can be marked off on this set of scores, or this proficiency target and be confident that the kid can be successful on the next one. Clearly,
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among the participants no single definition or method of measurement existed for determining student competency. With this said, when discussing the successes and barriers of their CBE implementation efforts, the participants responses were more closely aligned.
Successes of CBE Implementation
A common success expressed by the participants focused on the ability to provide each child with meaningful learning opportunities. This begins with effectively identifying student competency, and from that data creating effective performance-base groupings. In reference to this one principal said, What has been successful is we have a pretty dam good idea of where our kids stand... I dont think our system is perfect, but we do go through a rigorous process to identify what our kids can and cannot do. So I do think that is a tremendous success of the system. Discussing these same sentiments a teacher said, Early [beginning of school year] assessments give us an opportunity to put kids into learning groups so that we can put kids into groups based upon what they know and what they need, while at the same time another teacher discussed how We take each kids score and sort them into categories and then every time we progress monitor, we re-sort again. So this is the way Ive found is the easiest to keep up with, and be able to fine tune my small groups based upon specific needs. But, a simple performance-base grouping of kids does not guarantee meaningful instruction. A competency-based environment also requires the learning level in those classrooms meet the needs of the learners. One teacher discussed the ability of CBE to do just this when they said Once you get kids into groups it does feel really powerful. Because when you do get your groups right, and you see kids all getting the right things... I think that has been one of the most positive things. A principal discussed this in reference to the coordinated efforts between teachers and interventionists to meet kids at their instructional level. You will see them all working together not worrying about what grade level a kid is, but instead making sure theyre closing gaps... they are [teachers and interventionists] very good at knowing where kids are and what the next step in instruction
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should be. One teacher felt their biggest success was matching instruction to the correct ability levels of kids, especially since most of the learners in their classroom are below grade-level. I typically have those struggling students in my classroom, so the most successful piece for me is taking those kids where theyre at and working with them at that level. Without a doubt these educators believe the ability to match instructional to the competency levels of their performance-based groups was a huge success of CBE, however it wasnt the only one mentioned.
Another effective element of CBE discussed focused on generating student ownership into the learning process. Highlighting this one principal said, By far the biggest piece is our data notebooks and the piece of action planning because I really believe the crux of our system is student ownership in learning. You cannot take ownership out and have a sense of where you need to go in a CBS system. Speaking to the successes of this, one teacher discussed how data notebooks provide students with an understanding of their next steps toward competency. So I talked about data notebooks being a huge key because it allows kids to look at a glance at what they need to do, while another teacher said, ...students track their steps in the Proficiency Scales, you know the numbered steps in the Scales are sort of the ladder of progression... so they [students] can monitor themselves and put a sticky note into a journal to see what they need to do based upon the things that we are working on. But its not only students being aware of their next learning steps, a CBE system also ensures kids know what being competent will look like. Definitely the most successful thing is kids being able to evaluate themselves on their proficiency levels because they know theyre next step... I can start a lesson and I can say, OK guys this is a Score 3 and kids begin to think about what proficiency will look like. In reference to this another teacher said, With the Proficiency Scales kids can tell me Im a 2, or Im a 3.
So making sure kids can understand the Proficiency Scales, and the proficiency within the levels has been successful. Clearly the participants feel successful with generating student ownership
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through the use of data notebooks and Proficiency Scales, and believe working within a CBE system helps create this. With this said, a common barrier was mentioned numerous times that could potentially inhibit many of the successes, both potential and realized, within the CBE system.
Barriers to CBE Implementation
When looking at the responses both time and class size were discussed as challenges to effective implementation of the CBE system. Each participant interviewed mentioned these barriers in one-way or another. First, several teachers stated an inability to be true to the CBE system because of class size. So, I love, love the theory of CBS, because that is what education should be, but I feel like the implementation of it, at least with the numbers [class size] we have, it is a challenge and I dont believe we can truly do the system justice as it stands right now. Concerns focused on not being able to personalize instruction. One principal discussed this directly by saying, You lower the number of kids that each teacher is working with and you would see that personalized learning, that being able to keep up with the data, the recording, its just going to happen with more quality. At the same time, a teacher discussed how not being ... able to sit down with a each kid... is the most challenging for me, especially with the class sizes that we have. I dont feel like I have the time to individualize instruction, or sit down with kids one-on-one to personalize their experience. Another teacher discussed, how in their opinion, too high of class sizes ultimately stunts student growth. In a perfect world I would be able to know everything every student is doing, and be able to plan whole units and lessons for each kid. And yeah, I feel like this is the true CBS model, if we could have exact individual needs and targets met wed have a lot more movement between all the levels than we do. In addition, others felt smaller class sizes would allow for deeper data digs, ensuring a better understanding of the individual needs and differentiated instructional strategies for each child. Furthering on this, one teacher discussed how they want to be able to Sit down and look at the
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data, and not just at a glance but really look deep. Look at what does Timmy need to work on, what does he need to do, what is going to drive him most to get this skill? Because I feel like we can sit down and look at the data from all of our diagnostics... but really digging deep is something that doesnt happen with 30 [students]. In addition to class size, the other common concern centered on time, or a lack thereof.
When looking at the responses it is clear that time and class size are in reality dependent of one another. Lower class sizes would allow for more time spent planning, instructing, and assessing each student, while also reducing the amount of student data each teacher ultimately needs to work with. In reference to this one principal said, Obviously time is going to be the one everybody has a problem with. I dont have anyone here who is against CBS, theyre challenges are all in time. They want to do the right thing, they want to do it well, and they want to do whats best for their kids. The challenge is keeping up with it all. Another principal expressed similar concerns. So you have to know your kids, you have to know what each kid needs, keep up with their individual data, and these pieces are time consuming with 30 students per class. So in my mind, smaller class sizes are a factor of scale. If you have smaller class sizes, I just see it done better, I just see higher quality. Several teachers discussed how a lack of time prevents them from being able to individualize instruction. The biggest challenge is time. To be able to sit down with every kid, to help them goal set and to track where they are, that takes a lot of time... thats been my struggle is finding the time, while another teacher said, But again, getting this down to the individual level is hard because in theory, not every kid should be working on the same targets at the same time, but managing that, so like if this kid is doing this target, and that kid is doing that target, you know, how do you manage that? Finally, speaking honestly a teacher discussed how class size and time ultimately prevent them from being the CBE teacher they want to be. I think a competency-based system does require more in terms of data collection, management, and figuring out where students are, and then individualizing that
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instruction... so with the large class sizes it makes it really challenging because there isnt enough time. You know what you need to do, but there just isnt enough time to make it happen. Clearly, class sizes and the feeling of not having enough time leads to an inability to individualize instruction. Since most of the educators interviewed stated that personalized education was a central tenet to CBE, this reality poses a significant challenge to implementation efforts. However, there was one other common barrier discussed that did not focus on internal CBE design, but instead external factors.
One truth about CBE is it is not common across many K-12 systems. Another truth is the nation still operates under grade-level structures. Many participants expressed frustration with the friction that exists between CBE and the traditional organizational structures that govern public education, specifically the standardized tests the state uses for accountability. We say that time is the variable except that isnt the case for the people who accredit us. Time is very much not variable for them. You have to show that kids can do something at a very specific time. So it feels like we are always at odds with the rest of the education world. Speaking directly to state testing, one teacher discussed the challenges of teaching a student at their performance level all year, to only then be administered a grade-level exam standardized exam at the end of the year. We want to teach kids at their level... but we have a huge pressure and constraint from the state... we tell the kids that were going to teach you at your level, but in the spring you have to take this big test that you have not had any exposure to because its not at your academic performance level. Another teacher discussed concerns about students who leave the CBE system to a traditional school district. Say I have a Level 4 student who is an actual 5th grader, but they are only getting 4th grade material. If for some reason they were to move to another district, they havent had any 5th grade content. Before I thought this system was perfect in that we were meeting kids where they are, that is what good teaching is, but I fear when kids dont have grade level exposure... they arent getting everything they need. Finally, another
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teacher summarized this friction when saying, That grade system has been around for 100 years in America, but our system really emphasizes that kids cant think of themselves as graders... in some instances it feels that the competency-based system works against the system we have to play in... there is plenty of scrutiny on public education and we seem to run crossways even more because we are staking out this position [CBE]. Clearly it is not easy operating a CBE system that is not recognized, nor aligned with the existing traditional educational structures in place. With this said though, the participants interviewed still believe CBE is the right work.
Why Competency-based Education?
Despite the challenges and barriers discussed, many of the respondents expressed a deep-seated belief that CBE is the right work. We all want to do this, we believe its the right thing for kids, because weve seen the success. Another teacher expressed belief in the system because it allows for students to demonstrate their learning through non-traditional avenues.
We work really hard to try to come up with ways and skills to help them get there, and it doesnt always have to be a particular way. So by having multiple assessments, or multiple ways of looking at what they know, they can show me what they know in ways that maybe they have never been allowed to show their knowledge before. Finally, and maybe most importantly, several participants expressed a belief that CBE gives every kid a chance, regardless of how far below grade level they might be. I mean I have a 5th grader who is a Level 2 kid, and when he passes targets and his graph goes up, that is awesome. He would never have these successes in a traditional classroom. He wouldnt realistically be able to pass 5th grade content. ..sol think thats really cool just watching him be able to celebrate his successes. Clearly despite the challenges of CBE, these educators still believe it is the right way to educate kids.
Implications for Practice and Future Research
As stated previously, very few K-12 CBE systems are in place, leaving a void of experiential research concerning those practitioners carrying out such reforms in schools and
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classrooms. This phenomenological case study attempted to provide these perspectives, specifically in relation to definitional attributes and implementation practices of CBE inside of Westminster Public Schools. This study highlighted the differences between the participants theoretical definitions of CBE and the operational definitions put into practice, as well as the unique insights into how WPS designed their CBE model and lessons learned from the successes and barriers of these decisions. The hope is other educators considering implementation of a competency-based system can leam from these early adopters, and deepen their understanding of a CBE system already in place. Clearly the WPS educators experiences are unique, and can provide interested parties a framework from which to begin their own CBE design considerations.
The study found several areas that may gamer future research. To begin, the lack of consistency across participants regarding the definition and measurement of student competency needs to be further explored. As was discussed, a CBE system allows for and by definition requires students to progress academically only after competency is achieved, making determinations of proficiency a critical component to the successful adoption of a CBE system. With this said, consistently defining and measuring student competency across multiple content areas, learning objectives, and classrooms was not simply achieved in WPS. Additional research toward how best to define student competency, as well as the development of a reliable measurement tool with strong inter-rater reliability would help mitigate the inconsistencies seen in this study.
Another avenue for future research surrounds the effect of class size on personalized learning in CBE environments. As this study highlighted, many teachers discussed an inability to individualize a students education because of unmanageable student counts. Since many of the respondents believed personalized learning to be the central tenet to CBE, this finding is of great importance. Many districts wishing to adopt CBE face budget and facility constraints that lead
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to higher-class sizes, so simply reducing student numbers is not always a feasible solution to ensuring individualized instruction occurs. Future research is needed to determine what effect class size has on personalized learning and if structural design strategies can mitigate its impacts.
Next, it would be interesting to compare the phenomenological experiences of WPS educators to those of other K-12 CBE systems already in place. Do the theoretical and operational definitions of the practitioners align? Do other systems use performance-base groupings in the same capacity? If not, how are classrooms compositions determined, and to what effect? Do other CBE systems believe personalized learning to be a critical component like WPS? Also, do other CBE environments have similar class sizes and what comparisons can be derived in relation to individualized learning? Clearly WPS is not the only system attempting to implement this type of complex reform, so any efforts to bring more CBE educator voices into the discussion would be beneficial.
Conclusion
Without a doubt competency-based education radically restructures the design of traditional schooling. When individualized competency-based academic progressions replace the time-bound measures traditionally used, the fundamental rules that govern schooling change. Very few K-12 systems have adopted such a reform, leaving those who have with unique insights that others can leam from. This phenomenological case study attempted to document these educators experiences to better understand the successes, barriers, and beliefs held about CBE and hopefully through their voices, will provides insight for other systems interested in adopting such a model in their own schools and districts.
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APPENDIX
APPENDIX A INTERVIEW QUESTIONS Principal Questions
Definition of CBE:
1. What is your theoretical definition of competency-based education?
2. What are the key features of this definition?
3. What is the operating definition of competency-based education at your school?
4. What are the key features of this definition?
Implementation of CBE
5. What CBE processes and tools exist in your school for student grouping and academic progression?
6. How is student competency defined and measured in your school?
7. What are key features of CBE instruction in your school?
8. How does CBE instruction emphasize application of knowledge and development of important skills?
9. What are key features of CBE assessment in your school?
10. How is CBE assessment used for learning?
Successes and Barriers of Implementation:
11. Of your identified CBE processes and tools, which has your school been most successful at implementing? And which has your school been least successful at implementing?
12. Of your identified key features of CBE instruction, which has your school been most successful at implementing? And which has your school been least successful at implementing?
13. Of your identified key features of CBE assessment, which has your school been most successful at implementing? And which has your school been least successful at implementing?
14. Based upon your experiences, what have you found to be the largest barriers to implementing competency-based education for you school?
15. Based upon your experiences, what adjustments can Westminster Public Schools make to increase the efficacy of its competency-based education design?
Teacher Questions
Definition of CBE:
1. What is your theoretical definition of competency-based education?
2. What are the key features of this definition?
3. What is the operating definition of competency-based education at your school ?
4. What are the key features of this definition?
Implementation of CBE
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5. What CBE processes and tools exist in your classroom for student grouping and academic progression?
6. How do you define and measure student competency?
7. What are key features of your CBE instruction?
8. How does your CBE instruction emphasize application of knowledge and development of important skills?
9. What are key features of your CBE assessment?
10. How do you use CBE assessment for learning?
Successes and Barriers of Implementation:
11. Of your identified CBE processes and tools, which have you been most successful at implementing? And which have you been least successful at implementing?
12. Of your identified key features of CBE instruction, which have you been most successful at implementing? And which have you been least successful at implementing?
13. Of your identified key features of CBE assessment, which have you been most successful at implementing? And which have you been least successful at implementing?
14. Based upon your experiences, what have you found to be the largest barriers to implementing competency-based education in your classroom?
15. Based upon your experiences, what adjustments can Westminster Public Schools make to increase the efficacy of its competency-based education model?
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APPENDIX B
PRIMARY RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
Primary research objective #1: Identify and compare the theoretical and operational definitions of CBE across and within WPS elementary schools, both relative to the Competency Works best practices CBE definition (See questions 1-4).
Primary research objective #2: Identify and compare CBE implementation strategies across and within WPS elementary schools (See questions 5-10).
Research objective #3: Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation across and within WPS elementary schools (See questions 11-15).
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APPENDIX C
SCRIPT FOR STARTING INTERVIEWS
Hello, and thank you for allowing me to interview you today. The purpose of this study is to better understand the definition and practice of the competency-based system (CBS) in elementary schools here in Westminster Public Schools (WPS). A reality of competency-based education (CBE) is it is relatively new in K-12 public education, and currently there is not an agreed upon best practice, or even definition for that matter. As you may be aware, WPS was an early adopter of CBE and therefore, a lot can be learned by listening to the educators who were tasked with implementing it across WPS schools. Toward this end, I am interviewing principals and teachers from three different WPS elementary schools to gain a better understanding of what CBS is in WPS, and how it has been implemented. Your experiences with this are invaluable and quite unique, which is why I am interviewing you today.
Before we get started I need to have your informed consent to participate. This consent form discusses in details key features of your participation. Im going to give you some time to review it first and afterwards you will be allowed to ask any clarifying questions. If after this you agree to the terms, you will provide your informed consent by signing two copies of the document.
One copy I will keep, the other will be for your records.
I want reiterate one item from the consent form, which is all answers you provide today and in any subsequent conversations will remain anonymous. In order to ensure participant responses are truthful and accurate, it is important that confidentiality be protected at all times. Toward this end, please know that any and all information you provide will not be known to anyone other than myself and other research assistants at the University of Colorado, Denver.
Finally, I want to briefly introduce myself and why Im interested in your experiences as a CBE educator. First, I am the principal of Tennyson Knolls here in WPS, so I too am a CBE educator and experience firsthand the joys and tribulations of implementing such a radical education reform. I also am graduate student at the University of Colorado, Denver where I am working toward my Doctorate in Education. I am my final year of study and currently working on my dissertation in practice, which focused on WPS CBE implementation, and is why Im here interviewing you today.
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APPENDIX D
CONSENT FOR PARTICIPATION IN RESEARCH INTERVIEW
I volunteer to participate in a research project conducted by Brian Kosena from the University of Colorado, Denver. I understand that the project is designed to gather information about CBE inside of WPS. I will be one of 9 people being interviewed for this research study.
1. My participation in this project is voluntary. I understand that I will not be paid for my participation. I may withdraw and discontinue participation at any time without penalty. If I decline to participate or withdraw from the study, no one at my school will be told.
2. I understand that most interviewees will find the discussion interesting and thought-provoking. If, however, I feel uncomfortable in any way during the interview session, I have the right to decline to answer any question or to end the interview.
3. Participation involves being interviewed by the PI from UCD. The interview will last approximately 30-45 minutes. Notes will be written during the interview and an audio recording of the interview and subsequent dialogue will be taken. If I don't want to be taped, I will not be able to participate in the study.
4. I understand that the researcher will not identify me by name in any reports using information obtained from this interview, and that my confidentiality as a participant in this study will remain secure. Subsequent uses of records and data will be subject to standard data use policies, which protect the anonymity of individuals and institutions.
5. Faculty and administrators from my school will neither be present at the interview nor have access to raw notes or transcripts. This precaution will prevent my individual comments from having any negative repercussions.
6.1 understand that this research study has been reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for Studies Involving Human Subjects: Behavioral Sciences Committee at the University of Colorado, Denver.
7.1 have read and understand the explanation provided to me. I have had all my questions answered to my satisfaction, and I voluntarily agree to participate in this study.
8. I have been given a copy of this consent form.
____________________________________My Signature
____________________________________My Printed Name
For further information, please contact:
____________________________________Signature of the Investigator
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APPENDIX E
CODE FREQUENCY
Theoretical Definition of CBE
All Codes Time is variable-7, Individualized Education-6, Student Ownership-2, Student Voice/Choice-1, Student-Centered Leaming-3, Goal-Setting-1, Data Tracking/Recording-1, Progression determined by competency-4, Differentiated Assessment-1
All Teachers Time is variable-4, Individualized Education-5, Student-Centered Learning-2, Student Ownership-1, Progression determined by competency-2, Differentiated assessment-1
OAT Individualized education-3, Progression determined by competency-1, Time is variable-2,
LAT Time is variable-2, Individualized Education-2, Student-Centered Learning-2, Student Ownership-1, Progression determined by competency-1, Differentiated assessment-1
All Principals Time is variable-3, Individualized Education-1, Student Ownership-1, Student Voice/Choice-1, Student-Centered Learning-1, Goal-Setting-1, Data Tracking/Recording-1, Progression determined by competency-2
Highest Frequency Code Counts:
Time is Variable
o 7 total responses o 3 AP, 2 OAT, 2 LAT
Individualized/Personalized Education
o 6 total responses o 3 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP
Progression determined by Competency
o 4 total responses o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP
Operational Definition of CBE in WPS
All Codes Performance-based grouping-5, Multi-leveled classrooms-4, Multi-aged classrooms-3, Single-aged classrooms-1, Grouped by literacy-1, Departmentalization-1, Data Tracking/Reporting-3, Individualized Education-2, Student Ownership-5, Time is variable-1, Differentiated Instruction-4, Group education-4, Fluid groupings of kids-1, Teacher Collaboration-1, Student-Centered Learning-1,
All Teacher Fluid Grouping of kids-1, Goal-setting-2, Individualized Education-1, Multi-leveled classrooms-2, Teacher Collaboration-1, Performance-based groupings-3, Student Ownership-2, Differentiated Instruction-4, Student-Centered Learning-1, Multi-aged classrooms-1, Group education-1, Student Ownership-1, Data Tracking/Reporting-1, Group Education-4, Differentiated Instruciton-2, Same-age-1
OAT Fluid Grouping of kids-1, Goal-setting-2, Individualized Education-1, Multi-leveled classrooms-2, Teacher Collaboration-1, Performance-based
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groupings-2, Student Ownership-3, Differentiated Instruction-2, Student-Centered Learning-1, Multi-aged classrooms-1, Group education-1
LAT Student Ownership-1, Data Tracking/Reporting-1, Group Education-3, Differentiated Instruction-2, Same-age-1, Performance-based grouping-1
All Principals Performance-based grouping-2, Multi-leveled classrooms-2, Multi-aged classrooms-2, Grouped by literacy-1, Departmentalization-1, Data Tracking/Reporting-2, Individualized Education-1, Student Ownership-1, Time is variable-1
Highest Frequency Code Counts:
Performance-Based Groupings
o 5 total
o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP
Student Ownership
o 5 total
o 3 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP
Multiple-Leveled Classrooms
o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 AP
Multiple-Aged Classrooms
o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 AP
Data Tracking/Reporting
o 3 total o 1 LAT, 2 AP
Differentiated Instruction
o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 LAT
Small Group Education
o 4 total o 1 OAT, 3 LAT
Processes and Tools for Student Grouping and Academic Progression
All Codes Student Grouping: Skill Based (DIBELS)-7, Scantron-6, Empower-3, Age-1 Academic Progression: Empower-3, Proficiency Scales-2, Success Criteria-1, Student data notebooks-3
All Teacher Student Grouping: Skill Based (DIBELS)-4, Scantron-3, Empower-2 Academic Progression: Empower-2, Proficiency Scales-2, Success Criteria-1, Student data notebooks-1
OAT Student Grouping: Skill Need (DIBELS data)-2, Scantron-1, Empower-1 Academic Progression: Completion of Proficiency Scales -1
LAT Student Grouping: Skill Based (DIBELS)-2, Scantron-2, Empower-1 Academic Progression: Empower-2, Proficiency Scales-1, Success Criteria-1, Student data notebooks-1
All Principal Student Grouping: DIBELS-3, Scantron-3, PARCC-2, Empower-1, Age-2 Academic Progression: Empower-1, Student Data Notebooks-2
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Highest Frequency Code Counts for Student Grouping:
DIBELS
o 7 total
o 2 OAT, 2 LAT, 3 AP
Scantron
o 6 total
o 1 OAT, 2 LAT, 3 AP
Highest Frequency Code Counts for Academic Progression:
Empower
o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP
Student Data Notebooks
o 1 LAT, 2 AP
Define and Measure Student Competency
All Codes Measure: Formative Assessments-3, Summative Assessments-3, Mastery-4, Proficiency Scales-1, Data Recording-2, Score 3-1, Student/Teacher Exemplars-1 Define: Proficiency Scales-6, Success Criteria-2, Grade level benchmark-1, Empower Levels-1, Knowledge and Application of skill-1
All Teachers Measure: Student/Teacher Exemplars-1, Demonstrate multiple x's-(Mastery)-3, Formative Assessments-2, Summative Assessments-2, Proficiency Scales-2, Differentiated Assessment-1, Teacher Observation-1, Score 2-1, Define: Success Criteria-2, Proficiency Scales-4, Knowledge and Application of skill-1
OAT Measure: Proficiency Scales-2, Differentiated Assessment-1, Teacher observation-1, Score 2-1, Summative Assessments-1 Define: Mastery-2, Proficiency Scales-2,
LAT Measure: Student/Teacher Exemplars-1, Demonstrate multiple x's- (Mastery)-1, Formative Assessments-2, Summative Assessments-1, Define: Success Criteria-2, Proficiency Scales-2, Knowledge and Application of skill-1
All Principals Measure: Formative Assessments-1, Summative Assessments-1, Mastery-1, Proficiency Scales-1, Data Recording-2, Score 3-1 Define: Proficiency Scales-2, Grade level benchmark-1, Empower Levels-1
Highest Frequency Code Counts for Measure:
Formative Assessment
o 3 total o 2 LAT, 1 AP
Summative Assessment
o 3 total
o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP
Student Mastery
o 4 total
o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP Highest Frequency Code Counts for Define:
Proficiency Scales
o 5 total
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o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP Success Criteria
o 2 total o 2 LAT
Key Features of CBE Instruction
All Codes Time is variable-1, Individualized Education-2, Student Ownership-5, Goal-Setting-3, Performance-Based Grouping-5, Differentiated Instruction-4, Small Group Instruction-5, Student Voice/Choice-1, Differentiated Assessment-2, Student-centered learning-1
All Teachers Differentiated Instruction-4, Data-based groupings-2, Individualized Education-1, Student Voice/Choice-1, Differentiated Assessment-2, Goal Setting-1, Student Ownership-2, Student-Centered Leaming-1, Small Group Instruction-2, Performance-Based Groupings-3
OAT Goal-Setting-1, Student Ownership-3, Differentiated Assessment-1, Student-Centered Leaming-1, Small Group Instruction-2, Differentiated Instruction-1
LAT Differentiated Instruction-3, Data-based groupings-2, Individualized Education-1, Student Voice/Choice-1, Differentiated Assessment-1
All Principals Time is variable-1, Individualized Education-1, Student Ownership-2, Goal-Setting-2, Performance-Based Grouping-2, Differentiated Instruction-1, Small Group Instruction-1
Highest Frequency Code Counts:
Small Group Instruction
o 5 total
o 2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP
Student Ownership
o 5 total o 2 OAT, 2 AP
Performance-Based Groupings
o 5 total
o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP
Differentiated Instruction
o 4 total o 1 OAT, 3 LAT
Goal-Setting
o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 AP
Emphasis of Application of Knowledge and Development of Important Skills
All Codes Differentiated Assessments-5, Real-world Leaming-2, Project-based Learning-3, Success Criteria-3, Student Ownership-3, Student-Centered Learning-3, Student Voice/Choice-1, Cross-Curriculuar-2
All Teachers Success Criteria-3, Differentiated Assessment-3, Student Ownership-3, Real-world Leaming-2, Project-based leaming-1, Student-Centered Learning-3, Student Voice/Choice-1, Cross-Curricular Instruction-1,
OAT Differentiated Assessment-2, Student-Centered Learning-3, Student
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Voice/Choice-1, Student Ownership-2, Cross-curricular instruction-1, Success Criteria-1
LAT Success Criteria-2, Differentiated Assessment-1, Student Ownership-1, Real-world Learning-2, Project-based learning-1
All Principals Differentiated Assessments-2, Real-world Learning-3
Highest Frequency Code Counts:
Differentiated Assessments
o 5 total
o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP
Project-Based Learning
o 3 total o 1 LAT, 2 AP
Student Ownership
o 3 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT
Success Criteria
o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 LAT
Student-Centered Learning
o 3 total o 3 OAT
Key Features of CBE Assessment
All Codes Formative Assessment-4, Differentiated Assessment-2, Success Criteria-3, Summative Assessments-2, Measuring Competency-5, Academic Progression-1, Individualized Instruction-1, Data-Based Instruction-4, Data-Based Groupings-1, Student Ownership-1
All Teachers Data-Driven Instruction-4, Formative Assesment-3, Measuring Competency-3, Data-Based Groupings-1, Differentiated Assessment-1, Student Ownership-1, Success Criteria-1, Measuring Competency-1
OAT Data-Driven Instruction-1, Differentiated Assessment-1, Student Ownership-1, Success Criteria-1, Measuring Competency-1
LAT Data-Driven Instruction-3, Formative Assesment-3, Measuring Competency-2, Data-Based Groupings-1
All Principals Formative Assessment-1, Differentiated Assessment-1, Success Criteria-2, Summative Assessments-2, Measuring Competency-2, Academic Progression-1, Individualized Instruction-1
Highest Frequency Code Counts:
Measuring Competency
o 5 total
o 1 OAT, 2 LAT, 2 AP
Formative Assessment
o 4 total o 3 LAT, 1 AP
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Data-driven Instruction
o 4 total o 1 OAT, 3 LAT
Success Criteria
o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 AP
CBE Assessment for Learning
All Codes Data-Driven Instruction-8, Student Ownership-3, Data-Driven Grouping-6, Formative Assessment-3, Differentiated Instruction-2
All Teachers Data-Driven Instruction-5, Student Ownership-2, Data-Based Grouping-3, Formative Assessment-2, Differentiated Instruction-2
OAT Formative Assessment-1, Data-Driven Grouping -2, Differentiated Instruction-2, Data-Driven Instruction-2, Student Ownership-1
LAT Data-Driven Instruction-3, Student Ownership-1, Data-Based Grouping-1, Formative Assessment-1
All Principals Formative Assessment-2, Data-Driven Groupings-3, Data-Driven Instruction-2, CBS Staff Support-1
Highest Frequency Code Counts:
Data-Driven Instruction
o 8 total
o 2 OAT, 3 LAT, 2 AP
Data-Driven Groupings
o 6 total
o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 3 AP
Successes and Barriers of CBE Processes and Tools
All Codes Success: Student Ownership-4, Student-Centered Learning-3, Data-Driven Grouping-4, Goal-Setting-2, Use of Tech-1, Differentiated Instruction-2, Individualized Education-2 Barriers: Time-4, Class Size-3, Data Recording-2, State Policy-4, Traditional Mindset-1, CBS Definition-2, Parent Involvement-2, Data-Driven Grouping-3, Student-Centered Learning-1, Differentiated Instruction-1, Individualized Instruction-2
All Teachers Success: Data-Driven Grouping-4, Use of Technology-1, Data Recording-1, Differentiated Instruction-2, Goal-Setting-1, Individualized Education-2, Assessing for Competency-1, Student Ownership-1 Barriers: Class Size-3, Time-2, Data-Driven Grouping-3, Student-Centered Learning-1, Differentiated Instruction-2, Changing Definition-1, Individualized Education-1, State Policy-2
OAT Success: Data-Driven Grouping-2, Goal-Setting-1, Individualized Education- 2, Assessing Competency-1, Differentiated Instruction, Student Ownership-1 Barriers: Class Size-2, Time-1, Individualized Instruction-1, Data-Driven Grouping-1, State Policy-2,
LAT Success: Data-Driven Grouping-2, Use of Technology-1, Data Recording-1, Differentiated Instruction-1
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Barriers: Class Size-1, Time-1, Data-Driven Grouping-2, Student-Centered Learning-1, Differentiated Instruction-2, Changing Definition-1
All Principals Success: Student Ownership-3, Student-Centered Learning-3, Data-Driven Grouping-1, Goal-Setting-1 Barriers: Time-2, Data Recording-2, State Policy-2, Traditional Mindset-1, CBS Definition-1, Parent Involvement-2
Highest Frequency Code Counts for Successes: Student Ownership
o 4 total o 1 OAT, 3 AP Data-Driven Grouping o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 LAT Student-Centered Learning o 3 total
o 3 AP
Highest Frequency Code Counts for Barriers: Time
o 4 total o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP State Policy o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 AP Class Size o 3 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT Data-Driven Grouping o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 LAT
Successes and Barriers of CBE Instruction
All Codes Success: Data-Driven Grouping-3, CBS Staff Support-1, Teacher Collaboration-1, Student Ownership-2, Goal-Setting-1, Student-Centered Learning-4, CBS Tools-3, Assessing Competency-1, Data-Driven Instruction-1, Differentiated Assessments-1 Barriers: Time-4, State Policy-1, Viable Curriclum-1, Data Recording-3, Measuring Competency-1, Student Groupings-1, Class Size-2
All Teachers Success: Student-Centered Leaming-2, Data-Driven Grouping-3, Student Ownership-2, Student-Centered Leaming-2, CBS Tools-3, Assessing Competency-1, Data-Driven Instruction-1, Differentiated Assessments-1 Barriers: Measuring Competency-1, Student Groupings-1, Class Size-2, Data Recording-2, Time-1
OAT Success: Data-Driven Grouping-3, Student Ownership-2, Student-Centered Learning-2, CBS Tools-2, Differentiated Assessments-1 Barriers: Data Recording-1, Class Size-1
LAT Success: Student-Centered Learning-2, CBS Tools-1, Assessing Competency-
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1, Data-Driven Instruction-1 Barriers: Measuring Competency-1, Student Groupings-1, Class Size-1, Data Recording-1, Time-1
All Principals Success: CBS Staff Support-1, Teacher Collaboration-1, Student Ownership-1, Goal-Setting-1 Barriers: Time-3, State Policy-1, Viable Curriclum-1, Data Recording-1
Highest Frequency Code Counts for Successes: Student-Centered Learning
o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 LAT Data-Driven Grouping o 3 total o 3 OAT CBS Tools o 3 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT Class Size o 2 Total
o 1 OAT, 1 LAT
Highest Frequency Code Counts for Barriers: Time
o 4 total o 1 LAT, 3 AP Data Tracking/Recording o 3 total o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP
Successes and Barriers of CBE Assessment
All Codes Success: Assessing for Competency-4, Data-Driven grouping-2, Student ownership-1, CBS Tools-3, Differentiated Assessment-1, Data-Driven Instruciton-2 Barriers: Class Size-2, Time-5, Differentiated Assessment-4, Data Recording-2, Measuring Competency-1
All Teachers Success: Differentiated Assessment-1, Assessing for Competency-3, CBS Tools-2, Data-Driven Instruction-1, Data-Driven Grouping-1, Student Ownership-1 Barriers: Time-4, Class Size-2, Measuring Competency-1, Differentiating Assessment-2, Data Tracking/Recording-1
OAT Success: Assessing for Competency-2, Data-Driven grouping-1, Student ownership-1, CBS Tools-1 Barriers: Class Size-2, Time-2, Differentiated Assessment-1, Data Tracking-1
LAT Success: Differentiated Assessment-1, Assessing for Competency-1, CBS Tools-1, Data-Driven Instruction-1 Barriers: Time-2, Measuring Competency-1, Differentiating Assessment-1
All Principals Success: CBS Tools-1, Data-Driven Grouping-1, Data-Driven Instruction-1, Assessing for Competency-1
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Barriers: Differentiating Assessment-2, Time-1, Data Recording-1
Highest Frequency Code Counts for Successes:
Assessing for Competency
o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 AP
CBS Tools
o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 AP
Highest Frequency Code Counts for Barriers:
Time
o 5 total o 2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP Differentiated Assessment o 4 total o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP
All Codes Class size-3, Student Grouping-1, CBS Staff Support-2, State Policy-3, Time-5
All Teachers Time-5, Class Size-2, State Policy-1
OAT Time-2, State Policy-1, Class Size-1
LAT Time-3, Class Size-1
All Principals Class Size-1, State Policy-2, CBS Staff Support-2, Student Grouping-1, Changing Definition-1
Highest Frequency Code Counts: Time
o 5 total o 2 OAT, 3 LAT Class Size o 3 total o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP State Policy o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 AP
All Codes Class Size-4, CBS Staff Support-5, CBS Tools-1, Viable Curriculum-2, Time-3, Teacher Collaboration-2, Student Grouping-2, State Policy-1, Data Recording-1
All Teachers Teacher Collaboration-1, Class Size-3, Time-3, CBS Staff Support-3, Time 2, Viable Curriculum-1, Teacher Collaboration-1
OAT Class Size-1, Time-2, CBS Staff Support-2, Viable Curriculum-1, Teacher Collaboration-1
LAT Teacher Collaboration-1, Class Size-2, Time-1, CBS Staff Support-1
All State Policy-1, CBS Staff Support-2, CBS Tools-1, Viable Curriculum-1, Class
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Principals Size-1, Data Recording-1
Code Analysis
CBS Staff Support
o 5 total
o 2 OAT,
Class Size
o 4 total
o 1 OAT,
Time
o 3 total
o 2 OAT,
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Full Text

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A PHENOMENOLOGICAL CASE STUDY OF COMPETENCY BASED APPROACHES TO EDUCATION: A GROUND BASED LOOK AT ONE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT by BRIAN J OSEPH KOSENA B.A., University of Colorado, 2003 M.Ed., University of Phoenix, 2007 A thesis submitted to the Fa culty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education Leadership for Educational Equity Program 2017

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ii This thesis for the Doctor of Education degree by Brian Jo seph Kosena has been approved for the Leadership for Educational Equity Program by Cynthia Stevenson, Chair Jim Christensen Oliver Grenham Date: May 13, 2017

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iii Kosena, Brian Joseph ( Ed.D, Leadership for Educational Equity Program) A Phenomenolo gical Case Study of Competency Based Approaches to Education: A Ground Based Look at One Pubic School District Thesis directed by Associate Professor Cynthia Stevenson ABSTRACT Competency based education (CBE) is an educational reform that reimagines how school systems organize learning environments and advance students toward graduation. CBE replaces the Carnegie unit by using student ability levels, not age, as the primary grouping mechanism. It also uses the student demonstration of competency, not se at time in a particular course, as the metric by which academic advancement is determined. To date few K 12 systems have adopted CBE, leaving little literature for other systems to consider in their own CBE designs. Toward this end, there existed a need for the implementation stories of existing CBE systems to be told. This phenomenological case study analyzed the experience of three principals and six teachers across three CBE elementary schools. The study attempted to answer three primary research que stions: 1) Identify and compare theoretical and operational definitions of CBE, 2) Identify and compare CBE implementation strategies, 3) Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation. T hrough semi structured interviews the study generat ed experiential descriptors, which were used to identify qualitative differences in educator perceptions of CBE definition and practice. By categorizing these descriptors definition and implementation strategies were seen across the different educational settings. From these findings the participants shared similar definitional beliefs, however variations in implementation existed. Finally, successes concerning student ownership into the learning process were shared, as well as barriers surrounding the i mpact of class size on personalized learning. The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved: Cynthia Stevenso n

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iv A C KNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank the nine educators who contributed their time and experti se, as well as their experiences of implementing a complex and difficult reform. Without their participation this study could not have happened. I would like to thank my committee chair, Cindy Stevenson, who for the past yea r provided me with guidance, i nsight, and encouragement not to mention numerous breakfasts at the Egg and I I would like to thank Kent Seidel for his review and support of the study's methods and findings sections. I would like to thank the Colorado Multiple Institutional Review Boa rd for reviewing and approving this study under COMIRB Protocol 16 1317. I would like to thank the thoughtful and intelligent members of my cohort who challenged my thinking and helped me grow into the socially just public educator I am today. I would li ke to thank Pam Swanson for supporting me as I juggled the realities of completing a doctorate while also remaining fully employed in several different WPS schools. I would like to thank Harry Bull for planting the initial seed many years ago that a docto rate was something I should, and needed to pursue. I would like to thank my parents who have served as constant role models both personally and professionally, and have been behind me every step of the way. Finally, I would like to thank my beautiful wif e Jennifer, who throughout each success and challenge stood by my side, supported my pursuit of this degree, and never once stopped believing I could do this, and do it well.

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v TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 1 Background of the Problem ................................ ................................ ...................... 1 Statement of the Problem ................................ ................................ ......................... 2 Purpose of the Study ................................ ................................ ................................ 3 Research Questions ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 3 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 4 II. LITERATURE REVIEW ................................ ................................ ................................ 5 Definition of High Quality Competency Education ................................ ................. 5 Key Features of Competency Based Education ................................ ....................... 6 Growing Demand for Competency Based Education Models ................................ 9 Tough Issues Facing Competency Based Design ................................ .................. 11 Varying Implementation Models Across the Country ................................ ........... 17 Learning From Those Who Wen t First ................................ ................................ .. 20 III. METHODS ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 22 Setting and Participants ................................ ................................ .......................... 23 Instruments ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 24 Data analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 25 Limitations ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 26 Ethical Considerations ................................ ................................ ............................ 27 Trustworthiness ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 28 IV. FINDINGS ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 30

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vi Definition of CBE ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 32 Student Grouping ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 33 Academic Progression ................................ ................................ ............................ 34 Define and Measure Student Competency ................................ ............................. 34 Key Features of CBE Instruction ................................ ................................ ........... 35 Emphasis on Application of Knowledge and Development of Important Skills ... 36 Key Features of CBE Assessment ................................ ................................ .......... 36 How CBE Assessment is used for Learning ................................ .......................... 37 Successes and Barriers of CBE Processes and Tools ................................ ............. 37 Successes and Barriers of CBE Instruction ................................ ............................ 38 Successes and Barriers of CBE Assessment ................................ .......................... 39 Largest Barriers to CBE Implementation ................................ ............................... 40 C onclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 42 V. DISCUSSION ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 43 Discussion of Findings ................................ ................................ ........................... 47 Performance Based Groupings ................................ ................................ ............... 57 Defining and Measuring Student Competency ................................ ...................... 60 Successes of CBE Implementation ................................ ................................ ......... 62 Barriers to CBE Implementation ................................ ................................ ............ 64 Why Competency based Education? ................................ ................................ ...... 67 Implications for Practice and Fu ture Research ................................ ....................... 67 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 69 REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ................................ ....................... 70 APPENDIX ................................ ................................ ................................ ............................ 73

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vii A. Interview Questions ................................ ................................ ....................... 73 B. Primary Rese arch Objectives ................................ ................................ ......... 75 C. Script for Starting Interviews ................................ ................................ ......... 76 D. Consent for Participation in Interview Research ................................ ........... 77 E. Code Frequency ................................ ................................ ............................ 78

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1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION In May 2013 the Colorado State Board of Education adopted new high school graduation guidelines, to be fully implemented by 2021. Among many considerations, two specific guidelines stated that districts must provide a "re cognition of multiple and diverse pathways to a diploma" and an "articulation through a standards based education system" ( Grad Guidelines 2013, p. 2). Also specified was schools "must state the minimum academic competencies needed for students to demons trate postsecondary and workforce readiness and the types of measurements used", as well as "must allow students multiple, equally rigorous and valued ways to demonstrate competency of the knowledge and skills necessary for postsecondary education and mean ingful careers" ( Grad Guidelines 2013, p. 2). These new guidelines represent a potential paradigm shift for public schools in Colorado, and present a unique opportunity for competency based education (CBE) to be more widely adopted. Background of the P roblem The importance of demonstrating a minimum set of academic competencies to obtain a high school diploma cannot be understated. Schools currently operate under a time based measurement of academic progression, known as the Carnegie unit. Students at tend semester or year long courses where the teacher determines a final percentage based letter grade from a variety of considerations, including items such as assignment completion and class participation. Although these measures have been used for deca des, they do not always reflect a student's mastery of subject content (Silva, White, & Toch, 2015). Students can be deemed competent with a "D" letter grade, despite missing up to 40% of course material (Patrick et al., n.d.; Vander Ark, 2013). Starting in 2021, Colorado high school students must demonstrate mastery in all core subjects, even if they earned an acceptable grade point average. The old saying "D's earn

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2 degrees" may no longer be true. Leading up to 2021, schools and districts need to know i f their students will be able to demonstrate mastery across core subjects, and i f not, what gaps must be filled. One educational reform districts can consider is a competency based education approach. In competency based systems, schools replace the Carn egie unit, by instead focusing on student mastery. According to Competency Works at its very core competency based education uses student mastery of measureable learning targets as the metric to determine academic progression, not seat time in a class (C ompetency Works, n.d.). Since students can no longer advance with only 60% mastery, in a competency based system all graduates will be able to meet the new high school graduation guidelines setout by 2021. With this said, implementing such a reform is no t easy. Statement of the Problem One challenge to this effort is defining exactly what competency based education is, and how it should be practiced. In 2011, Competency Works, a project of the International Association for K 12 Online Learning, convene d 100 experts to create the following working definition of high quality competency education: Students advance upon mastery. Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable learning objectives that empower students. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions (Competency Works, n.d., p. 1).

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3 With this definition in mind, variations of practice still exist among those schools that have implemented competency based education, and districts that take on such an endeavor must be rea dy to embrace years of hard work as schools manage the adoption process (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). In addition, very few systems are competency based, leaving schools or districts wanting to make such a reform with few examples to learn from. Purpose of the Study Westminster Public Schools (WPS), located in a suburb in the Denver metro area, is a medium sized district of 10,000 students. After years of low state test scores and a persistent achievement gap, in 2009 WPS adopted a competency based educatio n model to achieve a learner centered classroom that would create proficiency for every student (http://www.cbsadams50.org/need for change/). WPS' competency based education model, known as CBS, combines four major components: 1) Leadership, 2) Shared Vis ion, 3) Competency Based Design, and 4) Continuous Improvement Cycle to help ensure students achieve at the highest levels (http://www.cbsadams50.org/our cbs model/). After seven years of implementation, WPS educators, especially those in the schools and classrooms, have learned a lot about competency based design and the successes and challenges encountered during such a systemic change process. However, the knowledge of these educator experiences was not readily available, leaving it difficult for other systems to learn from as they consider their own competency based designs. Toward this end, there exists a need for the WPS story to be told. These experiences provide rich data for understanding CBE. Research Questions This phenomenological case stud y analyze d the experience of three elementary schools in WPS as they adopted competency education. Interview responses from principals and teachers highlight lessons learned, strengths and weaknesses of WPS' competency based model, and

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4 insights for implem entation for other districts hoping to make a competency based refor m. Specifically, the study aim ed to answer the following research objectives: o Primary research objective #1: Identify and compare the theoretical and operational definitions of CBE acros s and within WPS elementary schools, both relative to the Competency Works best practices CBE definition. o Primary research objective #2: Identify and compare CBE implementation strategies across and within WPS elementary schools. o Research objective #3: Ide ntify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation across and within WPS elementary schools. Conclusion As school districts across Colorado work to ensure every graduate can demonstrate minimum competencies for post secondary success, competency based education is a model some will consider. Looking to those systems that have implemented such a reform can provide invaluable insights, especially at the school and classroom level where implementation can be daunting. It is the hope that this stud y, through the experiences of WPS principals and teachers will assist those wishing to adopt a competency based education model in their own schools and districts.

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5 CHAPTER II LITERATURE REVIEW A reality of education across the United States is students are allowed to advance to the next grade level often times without the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful (Patrick, Kennedy, & Powell, n.d.). The Carnegie unit, a time based measurement of academic progression, uses credit hours' to track ed ucational attainment and serves as the foundational base for all school structures. In addition, it uses students' age and not their performance level in a particular subject to group learning cohorts (Patrick et al., n.d.). Originally the Carnegie unit was designed to ensure post graduate readiness by standardizing the amount of time students were exposed to specific content areas (Silva, White, & Toch, 2015). As this system evolved, an unfortunate reality occurred. Students advanced through school wit h low, but passing letter grades despite not being competent in the subject material (Farrington & Small, 2008). High school diplomas, or certifications of academic achievement, are awarded to students who have not fully demonstrated a mastery of the lear ning targets. As the United States' continues to shift from the industrial society the Carnegie unit was designed for, and toward a knowledge based society of the 21 st century, new skills and competencies are needed for the American workforce (Koenen, Doc hy, & Berghmans, 2015). As public schools wrestle this changing reality, many believe implementing competency based education is the best way to move forward (Johnstone & Soares, 2014). Definition of High Quality Competency Education Before going further it is important to define what competency based education is. In 2011, the International Association for K 12 Online Learning (iNACOL) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) convened 100 experts to create a working definition of high qual ity competency education:

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6 Students advance upon mastery. Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable learning objectives that empower students. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions (Competency Works, n.d., p. 1). Ke y Features of Competency Based Education With this definition in mind, it is important to highlight a few key features. The central tenant to competency based education is that a student's academic progression is determined only by his or her demonstrati on of mastery in core competencies. As important, when mastery isn't demonstrated, the school must provide individualized supports for as long as is necessary, until competency occurs (Patrick & Stur gis, 2015). I n a competency based system student advanc e ment occurs at different rates for different subject contents ; and almost never coincide with existing academic calendars (Silva, White, & Toch, 2015; Johnstone & Soares, 2014). Competency based education also does not use the traditional method of group ing students into learning cohorts by age, but instead it groups students by their performance levels for particular subject contents (Silva et al., 2014). This method acknowledges that not all 10 year old students read at the same level. When age is the determining metric used for grouping learning cohorts, multiple performance levels typically exist in a single classroom, leaving the need for highly differentiated instruction to occur (Tomlinson & Demirsky Allan, 2000). Although possible, this expectat ion can be hard to achieve day in and day out for classroom teachers. Removing this

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7 need by utilizing performance based groupings is seen by competency based educators as a better way to ensure instruction matches the learners' levels. But, beyond classr oom groupings, it is also important to be considerate of grading practices. In order to accurately measure student mastery a standards based grading system must be employed (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Under the traditional Carnegie Unit of schooling, perce ntage based letter grading is used to determine student mastery. This system often awards academic credit for student behavior not indicative of mastery, such as completion of assignments and course participation (Colby, 1999). Providing academic credit for non mastery learning tasks creates a system whereby a student can be deemed competent with a "D" letter grade, despite missing 35 40% of the content knowledge In addition, these point based letter grades are largely inconsistent, as grade calculation s are left to teacher discretion, leaving little uniformity across classrooms even within schools, let alone across school districts (Colby, 1999). Competency based education eliminates this reality by ensuring students only receive credit for objectively mastering a clear set of learning targets. Toward this end, how students are able to do this must considered as well. In a competency based design learners must be provided a multitude of ways to demonstrate mastery, not just summative assessment tools t ypically used in classrooms today (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Competency based teachers use assessment strategies that are individualized and promote multiple pathways for demonstrating mastery (Sturgis, C., Patrick, S., & Pittenger, L., 2011). Performanc e based assessments with clear rubrics and consistent scales measure student proficiency on cross curricular learning objectives, a critical process for high quality competency based learning to occur (Sturgis et al., 2011). An example of this is the use of student learning portfolios, or compilations of academic work that demonstrate mastery of specific learning objectives (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Unlike traditional assessments, which only provide credit for a single course, learning portfolios travel with the student as they progress

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8 through school, becoming evidence of mastery toward multiple subjects and levels (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Finally, since students learn at different rates, providing a single assessment, usually an end of unit summative exam to an entire class at the same time seems unfair. In a competency based learning environment, assessment doesn't occur as a whole group event, but instead only when a student is ready. Since students progress at different rates, individualized poin t in time testing is more personal and allows a student to demonstrate mastery of learning only after he or she is ready (Sturgis et al., 2011). This element of personalization is important but is not the only way competency based education tailors instru ction to each child. Since competency based education allows students to advance at their own pace and on their own trajectories, a high degree of personalized learning exists (Sturgis et al., 2011). Personalization occurs in many ways, but must include structures that promote student agency, specifically through the use of clear, individualized learning plans derived from data driven decisions (Sturgis et al., 2011). Since every child is an active participant in the creation of his or her plan, higher degrees of student owne rship in the learning process are achieved. In addition, these learning plans highlight individual strengths and identify gaps, providing unique insights into next steps for learning (Sturgis et al., 2011). Since individual learnin g plans must include student data, the use of detailed student records becomes necessary. This data rich environment allows for reflection of past successes, but also easy identification of next steps (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Competency based school sy stems' seamless integration of student information systems, learning management systems and data analytics ensures accurate recording, tracking, and monitoring of student progression toward mastery (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). When the components of persona lized learning come together in the framework of a competency based learning environment, high levels of student agency occur (Patrick et al., n.d.). This creates a pathway whereby students assume ownership in their learning, are aware of their strengths and areas of improvement, know how success will be measured, and understand their path toward

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9 becoming a competent graduate. Growing Demand for Competency Based Education Models In addition to the learning characteristics listed above, other factors are driving the demand for competency based education. First, as states begin to use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), many believe competency based learning is the best way to develop new strategies to adapt to the more rigorous standards (Patrick & St urgis, 2011). The CCSS makes organizing schools by competencies, and not the Carnegie unit advantageous. When student competency is the central focus, teachers and students can better identify specific learning objectives as they work to better understan d the CCSS (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Adoption of a competency based model creates an expectation that students master each standard, a reality not true in a point based letter grading system. Finally, competency education's uses of performance based ass essments help students develop lifelong learning competencies the CCSS emphasizes (Sturgis et al., 2011). Clearly competency based learning can be a useful tool in adopting the CCSS, however it can also be used as an important tool in Next Generation Lear ning. According to the Council of Chief State School Officers, Next Generation Learning is rooted in the guiding principles of 1) student centered learning, 2) performance assessments, 3) comprehensive systems of support that extend beyond the studen t, 4) clearly stated high expectations, 5) anytime, anywhere learning, and 6) performance based learning (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Although not synonymous, the Next Generation Learning principles can be found in competency based education as well. Towar d this end, competency based education is often used, even if erroneously, interchangeably with Next Generation Learning. For those schools and districts considering Next Generation Learning, competency based education need be included in those discussion s (Sturgis et al., 2011). As educators continue to rethink what

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10 education will look like for the next generation, multiple pathways toward graduation are also being considered. An unfortunate reality facing many students as they work toward completing hig h school, is attending class everyday for 5 6 hours isn't either desirable or feasible. One third of students currently do not graduate. These "drop out" or "stop out" kids are in alternative schools, the juvenile justice system, or simply didn't make it to high school graduation (Sturgis et al., 2011; Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Currently there are few ways these students can obtain their diploma, however competency based education is beginning to mitigate this problem (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). In 2008, the Alabama State Board of Education made it possible for school districts to offer credit recovery and/or credit advancement opportunities through the demonstration of mastery, instead of predetermined seat time in class (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). In Ne w Hampshire, the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School is partnering with school districts to provide credit recovery through demonstration of competency using online modular units of instruction (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). Finally, for high mobility stu dents competency based education provides greater flexibility for academic progression through the use of fractionalized credits, modular learning units, or "student designed learning experiences that are not necessarily bound by traditional course sequenc es" (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011, p. 22). These examples show how school systems are using competency based design to provide alternative pathways to graduation, and ultimately decreasing the nation's dropout rate. Finally, competency based education is also helping schools and districts innovate to help turn around years of under or low performing students. A significant challenge facing schools is helping those students with significant gaps, or those well below grade level. Competency based educatio n provides the framework to personalize learning by ensuring instruction is delivered at the student's performance level, not his or her age. In addition, when coupled with strong blended learning techniques, such as adaptive, skill based online learning tools, students can

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11 begin to target specific gaps, instead of completing an entire course (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Clearly there is a growing demand for innovative educational practices such as competency based education, so then why is it not being mo re widely practiced? Tough Issues Facing Competency Based Design As early adopters of competency based education continue to implement, they provide unique insights into the transformative elements a radical institutional reform brings, as well as challeng es other districts can expect following down the same path. As with any major institutional change, success depends on the creation of a shared vision for the need to innovate. Engagement of all stakeholders from the onset of the reform is critical to ga in the necessary buy in needed to ensure sustainability over the long term (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Top down leadership will not work. If the push for the reform is seen as the school board or sup erintendent's alone, the effort no matter how valiant or appropriate, most likely will fail. According to Robert Crumley, the superintendent of Chugach School District, the first to adopt a competency based education model, the "biggest mistake districts moving towards performance based systems make is the tha t they fail to invest adequately in community engagement" (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015, p. 7). One common misstep by school leaders is t o introduce complex reform through large community forums where only one way communication exists. Although practical, thi s type of outreach is unlikely to produce the real conversations that help build deep understandings; the exact type of understandings necessary for lasting commitment needed to sustain a change movement, especially as the reform experiences unavoidable im plementation challenges (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Toward this end, it is critical for district leadership to present realistic timelines of institutional reform upfront. Competency based education does not happen over night, or for that matter, several years. Schools must commit to living with in the ambiguity of change for five, maybe even ten years embrace consistent refinements, and trust the

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12 process (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Easier said than done, but crucial for a successful implementation of com petency based education. In addition to stakeholder buy in, competency based education also requires the embodiment of a growth mindset by every member of the organization. Without this, the systematic reform will fail (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). A belief by all stakeholders that every child can succeed if only given the proper supports, and that a competency education design is the best way to achieve this common goal is critical to long term success. Without it, the reform will fail (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Toward this end, transforming a school system requires a unique brand of leadership at all levels, from the school board down to the classroom. Gaining buy in, dismantling old assumptions and embracing ambiguity as the system moves through the cha nge process is critical to its success, and very hard to achieve (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). This alone can make even the strongest districts reconsider a competency based model. As daunting of a challenge as this is, there are others to be discussed as w ell. The need for high quality assessment is critical. Beyond simply creating student portfolios, competency based schools must design meaningful summative assessments to be delivered "just in time", or when a student is ready to demonstrate mastery. T his is vastly different than the traditional practice of relying on standardized summative exams typically issued at the end of an academic unit or school year (Sturgis et al., 2011, p. 23). In addition, educators across the system must trust the validity of previously demonstrated student mastery by ensuring consistency in assessment practices across classrooms and schools (Sturgis et al., 2011). This begins by defining what student competency is, as well as the creation of high quality instruments to me asure these competencies when a student is ready (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Although it is important to include the systematic use of formative assessments as a means toward measuring student mastery, this assessment tool must also be strategically built into curriculum design to provide a feedback mechanism to inform next steps in a student's

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13 personalized learning plan (Sturgis et al., 2011). But beyond the creation and systematic use of high quality local assessments, competency based school districts a lso face challenges in relation to state and federal policies. In an effort to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), as well as the newly revised Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states designed school accountability systems to revolve around standardized exams (Guilfoyle, 2006). Most created assessment windows where all students take state exams at the same time. Today school districts, including competency based ones, are required to test all students by grade level, and only at the end of the school year (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). This clearly is inconsistent with competency based design that prefers point in time performance leveled assessments. Also, for those students below grade level, competency based education places instruction at t heir current level, reducing incidental contact or exposure to grade level material (Sturgis et al., 2011; Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). State assessment windows and grade level testing can unfairly hurt competency based districts, and provide incentives for other districts to not adopt such practices. Another challenge is the fact that competency based educators are asked to do more, especially when tasked with generating personalized learning plans for each student. In traditional models, teachers generally prioritize and sequence learning standards based upon required content and time available to cover it. However, in a competency based system educators must provide personalized instruction to ensure mastery of every learning target (Grenham, 2014). This creates a unique challenge, especially when considering the number of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for each subject, at each grade level. In a competency based system, documented evidence is required for every standard. Using the CCSS, a typical t hird grade student will need a body of academic evidence for 186 different learning standards across the just the core subject contents of Math, Literacy, Science, and Social Studies (Grenham, 2014; Sturgis et al., 2011). Clearly, this is challenging for the student, let alone the teacher who

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14 must teach, assess, and record learning targets for twenty five different children. This reality presents another tough issue for a successful competency based implementation. With so many learning targets, compete ncy based systems must be able to manage large amounts of data. Unlike traditional point based letter grading, competency based teachers need to input student artifacts for each learning target within a recording and reporting tool (Patrick & Sturgis, 201 5). Add to this the fact that most existing student information systems are designed for traditional time based, course specific architectures, competency based teachers struggle to accurately record student progression (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Althoug h some companies, such as Empower (previously known as Educate) are specifically designed for competency based systems, considerable challenges remain, such as easing the amount of recordable data, interacting with state reporting systems, and the inabilit y of student information systems to seamlessly sync to learning management systems (Sturgis et al., 2011). The data burden felt by students and teachers alike, coupled with few software programs to choose from is a daunting hurdle as schools work to imple ment competency based education. However, even if the data is recorded accurately, yet another concern exists with how outside institutions, such as universities work with competency based graduates. Competency based systems find it difficult to find ali gnment to higher education institutions. This includes several facets of school operations. First, in a competency based design students move at their own pace, meaning that some will advance beyond traditional K 12 curriculum before leaving high school. This requires schools to offer college level curriculum on site, or ensure concurrent enrollment options exist for those advanced students to continue their educational attainment (Sturgis et al., 2011). Second, college admissions use the traditional Ca rnegie system, whereby student credit is awarded by seat time not mastery; but more importantly grade point averages (GPAs). These GPAs are determined by how individual teacher's award points, which mentioned previously are not always indicative of student mastery.

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15 Since GPAs are one of the primary determinants for student eligibility and collegiate readiness, students coming from traditional systems can have an advantage over competency based graduates (Sturgis et al., 2011). Students working through sta ndards based grading within a competency based system do not earn point based letter grades, and therefore do not have a traditional GPA to submit. Many competency based schools use a proficiency scale of 1 4, where a 1 denotes no proficiency' and a 4 e xceeds proficiency', however this grading method does not convert to a 4=A and 1=D metric (Vander Ark, 2013). Although competency based schools have worked to generate a conversion metric to produce a GPA, it is not clean, especially since competency base d students are never awarded academic credit for assignment completion or class participation, both measures that can inflate final point based letter grades. As school districts work to implement competency based design, they struggle to transform exi sting teachers into competency based educators, as well as find new teachers adept at the challenging realities of competency based instruction. T here is no sugarcoating how hard this is. Creating personalized learning plans, design ing customized pathway s to grad uation, adequately differentiating and align ing instruction to a hundreds of learning standards (let alone record ing them), and creating meaningful assessments is just part of becoming a competency based educator. It also requires successfully em bedding formative assessment into cur riculum mapping effectively defining and measuring student competency across numerous subjects, managing large amounts of data, and effectively communicating to often times confused parents. The challenges are real ye t the teacher education programs at most universities provide little if any at all training on competency based instruction (Pace & Worthen, 2014). In addition, school principals likewise are not trained for the rigorous demands of leading such radical sy stemic change. Becoming a competency based leader requires administrators be change agents, by empower ing educators, providing individualized support s and seek ing out resources necessary to ensure personalized learning exists for each student. Although critical to successful

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16 implementation, these types of leadership development programs are not common in higher education principal prep programs (Pace & Worthen, 2014). Without a doubt, finding and training a competent workforce is a critical, yet very di fficult task for those districts adopting competency based education. At the same time, issues surrounding student equity need to be considered. Systems that implement a competency based design must be aware of potential equity issues. It is true that equity is a central driver of competency based learning in that it attempts to eliminate harmful variations seen across systems in determining adequate attainment of a high school diploma. Competency based models provide predetermined student performance s tandards, ensuring consistency exists across schools and districts (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). With this said, personalized performance based approaches to learning create the scenario where some students can be left behind (Sturgis et al., 2011). Unless strong gap filling practices are in place to ensure added supports exist for struggling students, variations in pacing risk enhancing the persistent achievement gap seen today (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Without a doubt competency based education is not e as y to implement. G arnering support for an innovative systematic change and finding the right personnel to lead it out is difficult. At the same time, schools must develop high qua lity point in time assessments, implement successful individualized learni ng plan s, and ensure teachers are proficient with large amounts of data. Finally, misalignment with state departments of education as well as universities poses additional problems, as does finding student information systems tailo red to a competency base d model In addition, since competency based education is still not common, no "how to" manuals for implementation exist, leaving those districts that attempt the reform largely to their own devices. With this said, several have attempted to implement, a nd each a little differently. These early adopters provide unique perspectives worth looking at.

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17 Varying Implementation Models Across the Country Chugach School District (CSD) in Alaska, a small rural district geographically spread out across large porti ons of wilderness, was the first district to adopt competency based education (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). CSD implemented their performance based (the term they use) model in 1995 as an attempt to increase student achievement, ensure their graduates were c ollege ready, and to curb annual high turnover of faculty (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Students were expected to demonstrate competency over ten levels within ten subject domains. Grade levels were replaced with a system where students move through the lev els and domains on individual tracks. Teachers were provided high levels of autonomy in how they use curriculum and instructional strategies they believed best helped their students achieve mastery in each domain. Student competency is measured using a s ystem of district created assessments, student performance portfolios, and the professional judgment of classroom teachers. Students work is scored using Webb's Taxonomy, a cognitive demands tool that measures depth of knowledge for particular subjects ( Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Five years after initial adoption, student achievement rose from the 20th to 70th percentile, students participating in college entrance exams went from 0% to 70%, and teacher turnover dropped 43% (Sturgis, Patrick, & Pittenger, 2011). Clearly an improvement, but CSD's early successes also made other school districts take closer looks at what was happening up in Alaska. Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) resides in California's Central Valley, about one hour drive south of Fr esno. It serves 4,100 students in eight schools and began its competency based education reform in 2009 with only the incoming 9th grade class at Lindsay High School (Sturgis et al., 2011). Like CSD, Lindsay refers to their model as performance based, an d adopted under the premise that students learn in different ways and in different timeframes (Sturgis et al., 2011). Using the California state standards as a guide, the district created academic units of study, known as Measurement Topics for all K 12 c ontent areas, as well as

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18 specific knowledge and skills used to demonstrate competency (Sturgis et al., 2011). In its second year of implementation, LUSD used an accordion method of adoption where the reform was introduced from 7 th through 10 th grade, and the following year across the entire district (Sturgis et al., 2011). LUSC embedded professional development for teachers within professional learning communities, created new grading rubrics, and provided additional classroom supports to ensure high degr ees of personalized learning. They introduced adult learner competencies for all staff and personalized professional development to help model the competency design (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). After just a few years, student achievement began to rise (Stu rgis et al., 2011). At the same time as LUSD was experiencing its early success, an online school in Florida was also implementing its own version of competency based education. The Florida Virtual School (FLVS) adopted a competency based learning platfor m where students work remotely toward mastery in traditional subject domains. Students can enroll and start coursework any day of the year. Also, there are no set time structures to classes, which allows for students to proceed through their studies at t heir own pace. Finally, teachers create individualized learning plans and systems of support uniquely tailored to each student (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). But beyond this model of competency based education, FLVS also implemented a performance based fundi ng structure, where the school only receives funding after its students' successfully complete a course (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). This funding structure provides a unique incentive for the school to be responsive to each student's need and to find indivi dualized interventions for those students falling behind or becoming academically stagnant (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). This reality increased the efficiency of the education model. The Florida Tax Watch reported FLVS produced a higher return on taxpayer d ollars, even when educating a high number of under served students, while producing better learning results (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). But beyond single schools and districts, some state boards and departments of education have become interested in compet ency based education.

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19 In 2005 the state of New Hampshire completely eliminated the Carnegie unit, taking a daring step toward a complete redefinition of its public education system (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). With the traditional time based system of schoo l architecture gone, the state adopted a competency based system to replace it, where students earn credit toward graduation not on seat time but demonstrated mastery, both in and out of the classroom (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). The state modeled its compe tency based approach with three central tenets: "1) personalization, 2) students as active learners, and 3) choice and flexibility for where and when learning occurs" (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011, p. 12). Of the many lessons learned out of New Hampshire, one of the largest was innovation doesn't always come voluntarily. The state board of education provided districts flexibility with their credit design and transitional plans after the initial 2005 competency based adoption. By 2008, most districts were stil l using seat time as a way to award academic credit, prompting the state board to mandate that only competency be used for successful completion of a high school diploma (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). The lesson learned, simply enabling policy was not enough for districts to innovate. Instead, they needed to require adopting the competency based model, while also being provided the necessary supports from the state to battle the unavoidable implementation challenges (Patrick & Sturgis, 2011). The final i mplementation model this study will consider is the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), a local education agency established to help turn around Michigan's lowest performing schools. The EAA provides these schools with increased flexibility and auton omy to eliminate structural realities seen as impeding student performance (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Much like the other examples provided, the EAA encourages schools to use a competency based approach to award academic credit instead of traditional seat time. The EAA Model is built upon five pillars: 1. Students are grouped by readiness, not by grade

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20 2. Students create and assume ownership for their respective personalized learning and success paths, and are able to communicate their progress relative to the ir individualized learning goals 3. Students are allowed to work at their own pace, using a blended delivery system, to master rigorous standards to ensure they graduate college, career, and next generation ready 4. Students provide evidence of mastery through r elevant performance tasks and common assessments 5. Continuous feedback is provided to students, teachers, administrators, and parents through the teaching and learning and the data warehouse" (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015, p. 25). One aspect of the EAA's implemen tation is it distributed high degrees of autonomy to the schools within its system to implement the five central tenets to its competency based education design. Within this autonomous control, the EAA provided schools with system wide learning platform t o support student learning, teacher monitoring of student progression, and easy to access data by which continuous improvement decisions can be made (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). Learning From Those Who Went First As seen with the above five examples of co mpetency based education implementation, similarities and differences exist across all systems. This is normal; especially since early reform efforts have few, if any prior examples to draw conclusions from. So, its not surprising that within these pione er competency based districts and schools, implementation strategies, attitudes, and beliefs vary. In fact, as Koenen stated in a 2015 article: Research about the perceptions of CBE has concluded that each educational institution implements CBE at its own pace and according to its own beliefs. Moreover, within organizations, the implementation of CBE does not seem to be always entirely clear to

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21 members of the teaching staff or students. Different approaches to CBE and different interpretations of workin g with competences' were found. (Koenen et al., 2015, p. 3). As competency based education continues to gain in interest, and more schools and districts consider their own implementation practices, examining these differences can help provide unique insigh ts for these systems as they design their adoption plans.

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22 CHAPTER III METHODS As stated previously, variations of practice exist among those systems that have implemented a competency based education design. In 2009, Westminster Public Schools began i mplementation of CBE across all 12 of its elementary schools. Over the past seven years, the CBE design in these schools evolved and changed as principals and teachers worked through the successes and challenges of implementing this large scale reform. T hese experiences provide rich data for understanding CBE at the elementary level. This phenomenological case study analyze d the experience of three elementary schools in WPS as they adopted competency education. Through the experiences of the principals and teachers, WPS' operating definition of competency based education was identified and compared to that of Competency Work's definition of high quality CBE. What strengths, weaknesses, successes, and challenges does WPS' CBE possess, and what implicatio ns can be drawn for other school district's considering a competency education model? The purpose of this study was to better understand the practice of CBE in WPS elementary schools through the eyes of the educators directly charged with implementation. Specifically, the study aimed to answer the following research objectives: o Primary research objective #1: Identify and compare the theoretical and operational definitions of CBE across and within WPS elementary schools, both relative to the Competency Wo rks best practices CBE definition. o Primary research objective #2: Identify and compare CBE implementation strategies across and within WPS elementary schools. o Research objective #3: Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation across and within WPS elementary schools.

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23 Research design Since the desire of the study wa s to investigate personal experiences of CBE a phenomenological case study was selected to best understand the working definition and implementation of CBE in WPS. The phen omenography of Marton (1981), which works to understand experiences as "conceptions of reality considered as categories of description to be used in facilitating the grasp of concrete cases of human functioning" was selected to help evaluate and analyze th e CBE experience in WPS (Marton, 1981, p. 177; Koenen et al., 2015). Based upon individual educator c onceptions of CBE the study generate d experi ential descriptors, which were used to identify qualitative differences in educator perceptions of CBE definit ion and practice. Then, by categorizing these descriptors, the study sought to understand and analyze the definition and implementation strategies seen across the different educational settings in WPS (Marton, 1981). Setting and Participants Westmi nster Public Schools (WPS) is located in the central and southern regions of Westminster, Colorado, a suburb in the Denver Metro Area. WPS consists of 20 schools, with two high schools, three middle schools, 12 elementary schools, one K 8 innovation schoo l, one early childhood center, and one online school. Total enrollment is 10,101 students, of which 73% are Hispanic, 18% white, 5% Asian, 1% African American, and 1% American Indian. The district employs 540 teachers with an average of 13 years of teach ing experience, of whom 76% hold advanced degrees (http://www.westminsterpublicschools.org/page/13). Three elementary schools were chosen for this study based upon principal selection criteria listed below. Nine people from three elementary scho ols were interviewed, including three principals and six teachers. Princip al and teacher selection was based upon longevity in current role. The study select ed two principals based upon tenure in their current role that dates before WPS' 2009 CBE implementatio n. These original adopters provide d unique insights into the early stages of

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24 the reform, as well as into the iterations CBE as taken as the district made adjustments after initial rollout. The third principal selected had tenure of only three years and provi de d insights of entering a school multiple years into the CBE implementation. Likewise, one teacher from each school was selected based upon tenure before the initial 2009 CBE implementation, and one teacher selected f rom each school was based upon tenure that began after initi al adoption. Principals were asked to voluntar ily participate and after their participation was secured, based upon the crit erion above, each principal identified two appropriate teacher participants at their school, at which time t hei r voluntary participation was requ ested. Each participant was interviewed individually resulting in a total of nine interviews. Instruments A semi structured interview instrument was selected because it is an effective way to explore individual percep tions and beliefs regarding a complex topic such as CBE. Furthermore, the semi structured interview process allows for additional probing and clarification of answers when needed (Barriball & While, 1994). The semi structured interview guide adapted from Koenen, Dochy, & Berghmans (2015), which itself was adapted from Dochy and Nickmans' (2005) research co ncerning CBE experiences was used (Koenen et al., 2015). Interview questions (see Appendix A) were generated to understand respondents' definitions of instruction, assessment, and student competency within a CBE system, as well as key features that define a CBE environment. Furthermore, respondents w ere asked to identify successes and barriers seen in their school and in the WPS' CBE mod el. The intervi ew questions were designed to answer three primary research obje ctives (see Appendix B), and were modified slightly between Principal and Teacher to differentiate between building and classroom practices. An interview p rotocol (see Appendix C) was used to ensure uniformity across each inte rview, and all participants provide d informed consent (see Appendi x D) before their interview began The semi st ructured interview questions were open ended to encourage more free flowing dialogue as

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25 participants express ed their exp eriences of being CBE educators Each interview took 60 minutes to complete, was audio recorded, transcribed and co ded for thematic identification Finally, no participant was compensated in anyway for his or her participation in the study. To ensure validity, an expert review of the instrument occurred to examine content validity of prompts and to ensure "ambiguities, leading questions and general criticisms are discussed and corrected" (Barriball & While, 1994, p. 333). In addition, this process also determine d the following concerning the semi structured interview questions and the principal investigator: 1. Whether respondents are wil l ing to answer each of the questions throughout the interview 2. Whether the time allotted is sufficient for i nterview questions as well as for subsequent dialogue for clarification and probing questions 3. Whether or not the instrument effectively elicits respondents different perceptions, experiences, and beliefs concerning CBE definition and practice 4. The princip al investigator's interview ability in an actual interview setting Data analysis All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and coded for experiential descriptors based upon educator concepti ons of CBE. First, data was triangulated between principal to principal (P P), teacher to teacher (T T), and principal to teacher (P T) to capture the different experiences of CBE both in relation to definition and implementation within and across the three elementary schools. Second, data was compared and contr asted between original adopting teachers to the late adopting teachers (OAT LAT), to identify if differences exist in perception, experience, definition, and implementation of CBE between early and late adopters. The hope was to identify and understand a) how individual beliefs concerning the theoretical and operational definitions of CBE vary across and within WPS, b) if and how CBE implementation

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26 practices vary across WPS classrooms and schools, and c) what successes, barriers, and adjustments have occur red across WPS schools and classrooms as they worked to implement CBE. Through a phenomenological analysis of the data and by contrasting CBE practices between particip ants and schools, the study provide d unique understandings o f CBE in WPS, as well as in sights into broad systemic adjustments to improve CBE implementation. Limitations To begin, since this study chose to focus only on three elementary schools and more specifically, on three educators from each school the n size wa s small. This low n count can hinder the ability of the findings to be generalized across schools, school districts, and states. Although a limitation, for the purpose of this phenomenological study, nine participants were seen as adequate to gain a sense of the CBE experience of elementary school educators within WPS. In addition, due to the time consuming nature of the semi structured interview instrument, the n count was kept low to ensu re the principal investigator could complete data collection and analysis within the study's prescribed timeframe. Since all data for this study was self reported several issues may have arose wit h participant responses that could affect this study's validity. Self reported data can be subject to selective memory (selectively remembering even ts of the past), telescoping (recalling single events throughout multiple events), attribution (associating positive outcomes to personal agency and negative outcomes to external agency), and exaggeration (embellishing of responses) (University of Southern California Libraries website, n.d.). The interviewer effect must be considered in several different ways (Denscombe, 2010). To begin, since all responses were collected via face to face interviews, the possibility for soc ial desirability bias may exis t This is especially true for this study since the interviewer is a principal in WPS. Participants may intentionally or unintentionally distort ed their responses to better represent themselves in the case of principals to a colleague, or in the case of teachers to a

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27 d istrict administrator. This could have potentially result ed in the data over representing "correct" answers (Fisher, 1993). To mitigate this the use of indirect questioning was considered but ultimately rejected because "indirect questions may actually reveal what respondents predict a typical other' might do or think", versus specific insights into their own beliefs" (Fisher, 1993, p. 304). Also, the semi structured interview allowed for pro bing, which help ed establish rapport between th e interviewer and the respondent, reducing the risk of socially desirable answers (Barriball & While, 1994). Another element of the interviewer effect that must be considered is possible bias the principal investigator may have possess ed especially sinc e he is an elementary principal within the scho ol district the research was conducted in In any qualitative research design, it is possible for the researcher's own "theoretical position, interests, and political perspectives" to affect the research ques tions and study design (Diefenbach, 2009, p. 876). In this case, the principal investigator mitigated such concerns by explicitly stating his implicit perspectives where necessary. Also, understanding that the principal investigator's personal experience with CBE in WPS could possibly impact his construction of meaning when considering and interpreting the data, the principal investigator will work with the Center for Practice Engaged Education Research (C PEER) at the University of Colorado, Denver to ac t as a "critical reference group" to ensure validity in the study's findings (Wadsworth, 1997). Ethical Considerations To begin, no participant was interviewed without first reviewing, discussing, and signing an informed consent form (see Appendix D ). At this time, all participants were made aware of the purpose of the study, why they were selected to partici pate, that their participation was voluntary, that they could choose to not answer individua l questions, and that they could stop the interview at any time. In addition, assur ances of confidentiality were made as well a description of the intended use of the collected d ata to ensure each participant wa s knowledgeable about the

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28 scope and sequence of the study (Kaiser, 2009). Finally, to protect confid entiality, all participants remain ed anonymous in reported findings, including in the presentation of research, as well as in discussion and analysis. With this said, due to the small number of study participants and the fact the three elementary sc hools reside within the same district, there existed a probability for deductive disclosures, or internal confidentiality of participant responses (Tolich, 2004). To mitigate this concern a dominant approach was taken whereas par ticipant confidentiality w as protected during "data collection, data cleaning, and dissemination of research results" (Kaiser, 2009, p.4). All personal identifiers, descriptors, and details were removed to help protect inter nal confidentiality. If it became apparent, despite best efforts to remove personal identifiers, a particular data set was highly susc eptible to deductive disclosure the data was not included in the study's published findings. Next, the nature of sem i structured interviews required the interviewer to be respec tful of the p articipants' feelings, which could be personal and priv ate. Toward this end, it was important for the principal investigator to establish a positive rapport with each participant, taking into consideration the possible exposure of personal vul nerabilities simply by answering the interview questions. Each participant's perceptions were respected throu ghout the research study, and recognized as unique and valuable (Newton, 2010) It wa s important t hat the participant's understood the principal investigator was trus tworthy, professional, and would not compromise their confidentiality at any point during the research process. Trustworthiness As mentioned earlier, the princip al investigator of this study is an elementary principal in the distr ict where the research was be conducted. Although this could have le d to potential limitations, it also increase d trustworthiness. A key criterion for internal validity is t hat of credibility, which was achieved because the principal researcher wa s famil iar with the organization, its culture, people, and customs. When a "prolonged engagement" between

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29 researcher and organization exists, the establishment of trust between parties is more likely, creating a higher propensity for honesty and candidness of in terviewee responses (Shenton, 2004, p. 65). At the same time, participants were assured before and during the int erview that their thoughts would remain confidential, increasing the likelihood of truthful responses. In addition, the working knowledge of the principal investigator of WPS' CBE practices, systems, and policies allowed for more detailed specific, rich dialogue to occur during the semi structured interview pr ocess. Next, triangulation occur red between the positions of selected educators, as w ell as the schools they work within. Seeking a broad range of people and locales produce d a diverse collection of viewpoints, providing a data set t hat allow ed for experiences to be verified against others (Shenton, 2004). First, since both principal and teacher perspective was documented, triangulat ion between positional roles could occur. A lso, since multiple schools participate d further site triangulation occur red to account for local factors. This cross sampling of WPS schools and educators ensure d a wide spectrum of observations, leading to myriad of perspectives to draw conclusions from.

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30 CHAPTER IV FINDINGS As competency based education becomes more widely adopted across K 12 school systems, one challenge for competency based educators has been defining exactly what competency based education is, and more importantly how best to implement it. In 2011, Competency Works, a project of the International Association for K 12 Online Learning, convened 100 experts to create the following working defini tion of high quality competency education: Students advance upon mastery. Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable learning objectives that empower students. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions (Competency Works, n.d., p. 1). With this definition in mind, variations of practice still exist among schools implementing competency based education, and districts that adopt such reforms must be ready to embrace years of hard work as schools navigate the change process ( Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). In addition, currently very few K 12 schools and districts are competency based, leaving those considering such a reform with few examples to learn from. Westminster Public Schools (WPS), located in a suburb in the Denver metro area, is a medium sized district of 10,000 students. In 2009 WPS adopted a competency based education

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31 model to achieve a learner centered classroom that would create proficiency for every student (http://www.cbsadams50.org/need for change/). WPS' compete ncy based education model, known as CBS, combines four major components: 1) Leadership, 2) Shared Vision, 3) Competency Based Design, and 4) Continuous Improvement Cycle to help ensure students achieve at the highest levels (http://www.cbsadams50.org/our c bs model/). After seven years of implementation WPS educators have a unique experience to share concerning competency based education, the successes, challenges, and what works during this level of systemic change. However, up until now a record of these unique experiences have not been readily available, leaving it difficult for other systems to learn from as they consider implementing their own competency based designs. Toward this end, the WPS story needs to be told. Through these educators' experien ces rich data for understanding CBE can be gleamed. This phenomenological case study analyzed the experiences of three elementary schools in WPS as they adopted competency education. Interview responses from principals and teachers highlighted lessons l earned, strengths and weaknesses of WPS' competency based model, and insights for implementation for other districts hoping to make a competency based reform. Specifically, the study aimed to answer the following research objectives: o Primary research obj ective #1: Identify and compare the theoretical and operational definitions of CBE across and within WPS elementary schools, both relative to the Competency Works best practices CBE definition. o Primary research objective #2: Identify CBE implementation str ategies across and within WPS elementary schools. o Research objective #3: Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation across and within WPS elementary schools. In the following pages a narrative of this study's findings are presented, w hile Appe ndix E display s a complete listing of code frequencies for each interview prompt. Respondents were

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32 categorized into several groupings, including their position, tenure with the district, and site location. Two teachers from each school selected for the study were interviewed, including an original adopting teacher (OAT), or one who has been with WPS since the start of the competency based reform, as well as a late adopting teacher (LAT), or one who started with WPS after initial implementation of CBS began. Finally, the principals from each selected site were interviewed, however were in the end not grouped by tenure due to deductive disclosure concerns. Since the study's participants included two original adopting principals and one late adopti ng principal, even with personal identifiers and descriptors removed, grouping principals by tenure would have allowed for easy deductive disclosure of the lone late adopting principal. Toward this end, all principals (AP) were grouped together regardless of tenure in the narration and appendices below. The findings begin by focusing on the respondents' beliefs concerning both the theoretical and operational definitions of competency based education in their school and classrooms, followed by discussion of their competency based implementation, specifically elements of competency based instruction and assessment. Finally, a focus is placed on the educators' successes and barriers with these elements, as well as WPS's competency based design and implementat ion efforts in general. Definition of CBE When d efining CBE theoretically (2 OAT 1 AP) discussed academic progression being based upon student demonstration of competency in particular subject contents and that time is the variable, not the constant in a student's education. Only two teachers (1 OAT, 1 LAT) mentioned how academic progression is dependent on the student demonstration of competency, however four teachers (2 OAT, 2 LAT) mentioned that time is the variable. Five teachers (3 OAT, 2 LAT) sta ted CBE theoretically is the individualization or personalization of education,

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33 and that specifically the instruction must meet each student's level of academic competence, not their age based grade level. When looking at the operational definitions of CB E (2 AP) stated the operationally CBE consists of performance based groupings with multi aged classrooms, while (2 AP) discussed the individualization or personalization of learning, although one defined this occurring through differentiated instruction, w hile the other through variable academic progressions. Finally, two principals (2 AP) discussed how academic progression in their school is determined by student demonstration of competency in particular subject contents. Only one principal (1 AP) discus sed student ownership (voice/choice in learning and goal setting) as an operational attribute to CBE. Three teacher s (2 OAT, 1 LAT) stated CBE is operationally based upon performance based groupings, while f our teachers (1 OAT, 3 LAT) stated with current class sizes the individualization or personalizat ion of learning is not possible. These teachers discussed how operationally speaking CBE consist of small group differentiation only. Four teachers (3 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed the role of student ownership as part of their operational CBE practices. Student Grouping An overwhelming number (3 AP, 2 OAT, 2 LAT) of respondents discussed the use of summative assessments to determine performance based groupings into classrooms, specifically DIBELS and Scantron in Literacy, and Scantron in Math. Empower was mentioned by (1 AP) as a primary grouping mechanism and by (2 OAT) as a secondary grouping mechanism. Many respondents (2 AP, 1 OAT, 2 LAT) also discussed the use of the same summative measures to create small groups for differentiated instruction both within classrooms and also for pullout intervention services. Performance based groupings appear to be common across all schools surveyed. The primary mechanisms used for these groupings are Scantron and DIBELS Several respondents (2 AP, 1 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed the need for, and the ability to keep student groupings fluid as

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34 new assessment data (both summative and formative) is compiled throughout the school year. Many respondents (2 AP, 1 LAT, 2 OAT) discuss ed the use of assessment data and performance based groupings as a mechanism used to target differentiated instruction, while (2 OAT) discussed how performance based groupings actually decrease the need for differentiation when entire classrooms have tight performance bands. Academic Progression Most respondents (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 2 AP) discussed student ownership and personalized learning through the use of data notebooks and student goal setting as the tool for tracking and measuring academic progression. ( 1 AP, 2 OAT) discussed the importance of individualized progression pathways, and specifically the use of data notebooks to achieve this. At the same time, (1 LAT) mentioned how Backward Lesson Design principals are used to individualize academic progress ion of Learning Targets, while (3 OAT) discussed individualized learning, specifically that students assume ownership in their academic progression through individual goal setting and data tracking in student notebooks. Define and Measure Student Competen cy There was considerable variation in the answers provided by respondents when asked how to define and measure student competency. In fact, similar answers were provided for defining competency as were for measuring competency. For example, successful c ompletion of Proficiency Scales was mentioned by (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 2 AP) as the primary way to define student competency, while two respondents (2 AP) said successful completion of Proficiency Scales was the primary mechanism for measuring student competency. When looking specifically at measuring student competency (2 AP) said competency is measured by the successful progression of learning targets within Empower, (1 AP, 1 OAT, 1 LAT) stated competency is measured through summative assessments, while (1 LAT ) discussed the use of formative assessments to measure competency. At the same time, (1 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed

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35 competency in terms of mastery, specifically that competency is measured when a student successfully applies and/or demonstrates a skill at leas t 3 times in row. Finally, (1 OAT) stated student competency is measured through student selected assessments. It is clear that across classrooms and schools there is not a clear measurement process in place for determining student competency. The situa tion is not much different when looking at defining student competency either. Respondents were more aligned in regards to the definition of student competency. Most people (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 2 AP) referenced the successful completion of the Proficiency Sca les as the definition of student competency. Other responses indicated competency to be defined by (1 AP) grade level equivalency in particular subjects, and (1 OAT, 1 LAT) mentioned specific criteria, such as "student is able to" or "student understands although both of these responses were in relation to the Proficiency Scales. (1 OAT) discussed in Key Features of Assessment that kids, "are encouraged to be experts and to teach other kids what they know". Finally, (1 AP) discussed in Emphasis on Application of Knowledge and Development of Important Skills the need for teachers to have a solid understanding of what competency looks like not only in the level they teach, but also in the levels directly above and below to ensure the instruction is aligned to the "teacher identified proficiency" of student performance levels. With this said, (1 LAT) mentioned in Successes and Barriers of CBE Assessment" not being sure what differentiates a Score 2 from a Score 3 when determining student competency. Key Features of CBE Instruction Many respondents (2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP) discussed the use of performance based groupings as a key feature to CBE instruction. More specifically (2 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) mentioned how performance based groupings allow for targete d instruction and decreased the need for differentiation. In addition, (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP) discussed the use of performance based groupings to determine small group instruction inside of the classroom, and more

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36 specifically the ability to individualize e ducation through these groupings. Another common theme across most respondents (2 OAT, 2 AP) was creating student ownership into the learning process. Within this response (2 OAT, 2 AP) discussed student agency through the use of data notebooks for track ing learning and setting individual academic goals, while (1 AP, 3 OAT) discussed students being aware of their individual academic progression. Emphasis on Application of Knowledge and Development of Important Skills Respondents did not provide clear ans wers to this question. The most common response (2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP) discussed the use of differentiated assessments. Respondents focused on the student's ability to demonstrate knowledge through a variety of methods, or in individual ways as the primary mechanism for CBE to apply knowledge and develop skills. Several teachers (2 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed the need for students to assume ownership in their academic progressions, while two (1 OAT, 2 LAT) stated following the academic progressions in the profic iency scales sufficed. Also, (2 AP, 1 LAT) mentioned project based learning as the preferred method for emphasizing knowledge and developing skills. It is important to note that most of the respondents did not directly answer the question, limiting the a bility of the study to draw clear conclusions surrounding this element of CBE (see Competency Works official definition) within the WPS' competency based system. Finally, the sole respondent (1 LAT) who did directly answer the question discussed how CBE d oesn't require application of many skills because the application part of learning resides in a Score 4 (Score 3 determines official competency), so operationally speaking, once a student achieves a Score 3 they move on to next Learning Target. Key Feat ures of CBE Assessment The most common response (2 AP, 3 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed the use of formative assessments. More specifically, (2 AP, 1 LAT, 1 OAT) mentioned the use of the Success Criteria and Proficiency Scales as the foundational block to build fo rmative assessments from, (2 OAT, 1

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37 LAT) discussed the need to differentiate formative assessments to ensure personalized learning occurs, and (1 OAT) discussed the need to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge. Finall y, (2 OAT, 3 LAT) discussed using formative assessment data to inform future instruction and/or to determine differentiation needs. How CBE Assessment is used for Learning By in large most respondents (3 AP, 2 LAT, 2 OAT) discussed the use of assessment data to determine performance based groupings. Specifically, (2 AP, 1 LAT) discussed the use of summative assessments for student groupings, while (2 AP, 1 LAT) mentioned the use of formative assessments to make student grouping determinations. Also, (1 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed how assessments are used to increase student ownership in the learning process, more specifically (1 OAT, 2 LAT) mentioned the use of assessment data to help students identify their own learning progressions, and where they are within the annual progression. In addition to performance based groupings, (3 AP, 1 LAT, 3 OAT) discussed using assessment results to make data driven instructional decisions. Within these responses, (2 AP, 1 LAT, 2 OAT) mentioned specifically the abilit y to use assessment results to differentiate instruction. Successes and Barriers of CBE Processes and Tools One principal (1 AP, 2 OAT, 1 LAT) felt their building's were successful at building a schedule that allowed for effective performance based grou pings of students, and were also flexible enough to allow for the movement of individual students throughout the school year. At the same time (3 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed successes with creating environments that encouraged student ownership into the l earning process. (2 AP, 1 OAT) believed this was achieved through student data notebooks and goal setting practices, while (2 AP, 1 LAT, 2 OAT) discussed the ability to create student centered learning environments. Finally, (1 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) discusse d feeling successful with implementing WPS competency based tools such as Empower and Proficiency Scales to promote student learning and academic progression.

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38 One common theme (2 AP, 2 OAT, 3 LAT) surrounded the challenges of individualizing and/or dif ferentiating instruction. The reasons for this varied. First, (2 AP) discussed the challenges surrounding teacher willingness to give up control of the classroom to allow for true student centered learning. Several teachers (1 OAT, 2 LAT) discussed stru ggles with creating meaningful independent classwork as the reason for remaining with teacher centered instruction, while (1 LAT) mentioned the difficulties implementing daily differentiation, especially with high degrees of learner diversity as the reason for not providing a student centered learning environment. (1 OAT, 1 LAT) believed class sizes were too large to effectively manage personalized learning, while another (1 OAT) discussed not being able to know all kids well enough to effectively different iate. At the same time, (3 LAT) discussed how ineffective performance based groupings lead to challenges with differentiation. Finally, another barrier felt by many (2 AP, 2 OAT, 1 LAT) was the challenge of moving beyond traditional education structures. Specifically, (1 AP, 1 LAT) discussed the seemingly annual changes to WPS' definition and/or implementation initiatives of CBE, while (2 AP, 2 OAT) discussed the friction between WPS' CBE model and the traditional grade level model of education, (2 AP) m entioned specifically how parents and/or teachers struggle to move beyond grade level thinking, and at the same time (1 AP, 2 OAT) discussed the challenges of operating in a non grade level system when state assessments, education policy, and higher educat ion do. These concerns led to (2 OAT, 1 LAT) discussing the challenges of CBE, specifically with feeling the need to expose below grade level students to grade level material for state testing purposes (2 OAT), or the challenge of constantly having to gap fill missing competencies for so many students (1 LAT). Successes and Barriers of CBE Instruction By in large most respondents felt successful with creating personalized learning environments through the use of CBE instructional practices. More specifi cally (2 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed effectively using performance based groupings to target instruction at the individual

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39 student level, (1 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) stated the CBS tools of Proficiency Scales, Success Criteria and student exemplar rubrics create studen t awareness of their own individual academic progressions, while (1 AP, 1 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed the use of data notebooks to increase student ownership in learning. The common barriers discussed focused on logistics, specifically in relation to data tr acking and a feeling of not having enough time. Specifically (2 AP, 1 LAT) discussed challenges surrounding Empower, more specifically ensuring accurate up to date student data exists to make future instructional decisions from. Several people discussed the challenge of implementing balanced instructional practices, either due to too large of class sizes (1 OAT, 1 LAT) or not enough time to plan (1 LAT, 1 AP). Another common barrier was an inability to individualize instruction. The reasons for this var ied between not enough time (2 AP, 1 LAT) and/or too large of class size (1 OAT, 1 LAT). Finally (2 AP, 1 LAT) discussed the challenges of working with CBS Tools (Proficiency Scales, Success Criteria, Unit Planning) and (1 AP) the need to coordinate these with traditional curriculums. Successes and Barriers of CBE Assessment The conversation surrounding successful use of CBE assessment practices focused primarily on two factors. First, (2 AP, 1 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed how the use of CBE assessment provide d a good picture of what students know and are able to do. Several respondents (1 AP, 1 LAT, 1 OAT) believed this accurate account of student performance creates an environment where effective differentiated instructional practices can occur, while others (2 LAT, 1 OAT) believe it results in better instructional planning. Finally, (1 AP) discussed successfully using assessment results to create meaningful performance based groupings, and (1 OAT) felt successful using the Proficiency Scales and Success Cri teria to increase student ownership in the learning process.

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40 Several barriers were discussed in relation to CBE Assessment. To begin, many respondents discussed not having enough time to: a) adequately assess students, especially on an individual basis (3 OAT, 1 LAT), b) use assessment data to personalize future instruction (1 AP, 2 OAT, 2 LAT) and c) adequately record and track student data in Empower for teachers, and student data notebooks for students (2 AP, 1 OAT, 2 LAT). In addition to feeling ther e is not enough time, (1 AP, 1 LAT) discussed the difficulty in measuring student competency, specifically (1 LAT) discussed struggling to determine the difference between a Score 2 and Score 3 on student work, while (1 LAT) mentioned the difficulty in cre ating effective rubrics in kid friendly terms. It is also important to note (1 LAT) discussed challenges of creating student exemplars to measure student competency when responding to Success Barriers of CBE Instruction" Finally, (3 AP) discussed chall enges of creating meaningful assessments. More specifically (2 AP) have concerns about assessment promoting student ownership, while (1 AP) has concerns that a high degree of reliability does not exist between classroom assessment practices. Largest Barr iers to CBE Implementation Time was the single most discussed barrier to CBE implementation. Most respondents (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP) stated there isn't enough time to adequately individualize or differentiate instruction. (Note: at the same time, (1 AP, 1 O AT, 1 LAT) discussed challenges to individualizing education because class sizes are too high). A second challenge mentioned was the nature of CBE not working in relation to traditional schooling. (2 AP, 1 OAT) mentioned the need for CBS to be contorted to work within existing education policies/norms, and the stresses this reality places on the district, school, and classroom. Five respondents (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP) mentioned class size fourteen separate times as a barrier to successful implementation of CBS. When looking at the responses many people (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP) were concerned about their ability to effectively individualize and/or

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41 differentiate instruction with such high student numbers. Several respondents didn't specifically mention class si ze, however the barriers discussed in their answers were results of high class size. These included: (1 LAT) discussed the challenges of keeping up with the amount of gap filling so many students need; others (1 LAT, 2 OAT) mentioned the struggle to diffe rentiate instruction down to the individual level, especially concerning each student's individual competency in relation to the daily learning objective; (1 OAT) discussed the challenges of providing too many students effective voice/choice; while (1 OAT, 2 LAT) mentioned a decreased ability to adequately goal set with such high class sizes; (2 LAT, 2 OAT) discussed challenges in providing individualized and/or differentiated assessments due to class size. Finally, (2 AP, 1 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed data man agement issues with Empower, specifically the amount of students to adequately record, and/or individualize future instruction from the data collected. Seven respondents (3 OAT, 2 LAT, 2 AP) discussed time, or a lack of it seventeen separate times as a b arrier to overcome in relation to CBE implementation. Responses focused on an inability to implement the central tenets of CBE. Specifically mentioned was: the ability to effectively individualize/differentiate instruction (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP); while (2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP) discussed not having enough time to individualize and/or differentiate assessments; (2 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) mentioned not having enough time to create meaningful, diverse learning environments that is structured for individualized learning; while (3 AP, 3 LAT) discussed challenges with the amount of time it takes to manage large amounts of student data, both for instructional planning and data recording into Empower; (1 AP, 3 LAT) discussed not having enough time to work individually with stu dents regarding goal setting and/or updating their student data notebooks.

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42 What adjustments can be made to CBS? Several themes arose from the responses concerning possible adjustments to WPS's competency based implementation. First, (1 AP, 2 LAT, 1 OAT) discussed the challenges of individualizing instruction with class sizes as high as they are, and believed if lowered, successful implementation of CBE practices would increase. Second, (1 AP, 1 OAT, 1 LAT) discussed the need to decrease the amount of mo difications and changes made to WPS' competency based model, as well as decrease the number of annual implementation initiatives. Finally, (1 AP, 2 OAT) spoke about the need for more time and opportunity to collaborate with other teachers in their school, but also with teachers from other schools in the district. There was a belief that this type of collaboration would aid in more successful implementation of the new CBS tools, processes, and district initiatives. Conclusion Looking through the intervi ew responses it is clear that many similarities and differences exist amongst the WPS educators in relation to their competency based education beliefs and practices. Several areas of note will be discussed further in the practitioner paper attached to th is study, specifically: a) the differences between the theoretical and operational definitions of the participants, as well as to the Competency Works definition of competency based education, b) the defining and measuring of student competency within and across WPS classrooms, and c) the challenge large class sizes present to CBS implementation across WPS.

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43 CHAPTER V DISCUSSION In May 2013 the Colorado State Board of Education adopted new high school graduation guidelines, to be fully implemented by 2021. Among many considerations, two specific guidelines stated that districts must provide a "recognition of multiple and diverse pathways to a diploma" and an "articulation through a standards based education system" ( Grad Guidelines 2013, p. 2). Also spec ified was schools "must state the minimum academic competencies needed for students to demonstrate postsecondary and workforce readiness and the types of measurements used", as well as "must allow students multiple, equally rigorous and valued ways to demo nstrate competency of the knowledge and skills necessary for postsecondary education and meaningful careers" ( Grad Guidelines 2013, p. 2). These new guidelines represent a potential paradigm shift for public schools in Colorado, and present a unique oppo rtunity for competency based education (CBE) to be more widely adopted. Starting in 2021, Colorado high school students must demonstrate mastery in core subjects, even if they already earned an acceptable grade in that course. The old saying "D's earn d egrees" may no longer be true. Leading up to 2021, schools and districts need to know if their students will be able to demonstrate mastery across core subjects, and if not, what gaps must be filled. One educational reform districts can consider is a com petency based education approach. In competency based systems, schools replace the traditional time and age based student academic progressions with one that instead uses student mastery as the primary determination for advancement. According to Compete ncy Works at its very core competency based education uses student mastery of measureable learning targets as the metric to determine academic progression, not seat time in a class (Competency Works, n.d.). Since students can no longer advance with only 60% mastery, in a competency based system all graduates will be able to meet

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44 the new high school graduation guidelines setout by 2021. With this said, implementing such a reform is not easy. One challenge is defining exactly what competency based educat ion is, and how it should be practiced. In 2011, Competency Works, a project of the International Association for K 12 Online Learning, convened 100 experts to create the following working definition of high quality competency education: Students advance upon mastery. Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable learning objectives that empower students. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their indivi dual learning needs. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions (Competency Works, n.d., p. 1). With this definition in mind, variations of pr actice still exist among schools implementing competency based education, and districts that take on such endeavors must be ready to embrace years of hard work as schools manage the adoption process (Patrick & Sturgis, 2015). In addition, currently very f ew systems are competency based, leaving schools or districts wishing to adopt such a measure with few examples to learn from. Westminster Public Schools (WPS), located in a suburb in the Denver metro area, is a medium sized district of 10,000 students. After years of low state test scores and a persistent achievement gap, in 2009 WPS adopted a competency based education model to achieve a learner centered classroom that would create proficiency for every student

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45 (http://www.cbsadams50.org/need for change /). WPS' competency based education model, known as CBS, combines four major components: 1) Leadership, 2) Shared Vision, 3) Competency Based Design, and 4) Continuous Improvement Cycle to help ensure students achieve at the highest levels (http://www.cbs adams50.org/our cbs model/). After seven years of implementation, WPS educators have learned a lot about competency based design, specifically the successes and challenges encountered during such a reform. However, the knowledge of these educator experie nces is not readily available, leaving it difficult for other systems to learn from as they consider their own competency based designs. Toward this end, there exists a need for the WPS story to be told. These experiences provide rich data for understand ing how one school district implemented competency based education. This case study analyzed the experience of three elementary schools in WPS as they adopted competency based education. Interview responses from principals and teachers highlight lessons learned, strengths and weaknesses of the WPS' competency based model, and insights for other K 12 districts hoping to implement a competency based reform. Specifically, the study aimed to answer the following research objectives: o Primary research objecti ve #1: Identify and compare the theoretical and operational definitions of CBE across and within WPS elementary schools, both relative to the Competency Works best practices CBE definition. o Primary research objective #2: Identify and compare CBE implementa tion strategies across and within WPS elementary schools. o Research objective #3: Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation across and within WPS elementary schools. Since the desire of the study was to investigate school experiences of implementing a competency based education design, a phenomenological case study was selected to best understand the working definition and implementation of CBE in WPS. The phenomenography

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46 of Marton (1981), which works to understand experiences as "con ceptions of reality considered as categories of description to be used in facilitating the grasp of concrete cases of human functioning" was selected to help evaluate and analyze the CBE experience in WPS (Marton, 1981, p. 177; Koenen et al., 2015). Based upon individual educator conceptions of CBE the study generated experiential descriptors, which were used to identify qualitative differences in educator perceptions of CBE definition and practice. Then, by categorizing these descriptors, the study sough t to understand and analyze the definition and implementation strategies seen across the different educational settings in WPS (Marton, 1981). Nine people from three elementary schools were interviewed, including three principals and six teachers. Initi al selection of principals and teachers was based upon tenure in current position and number of years spent within WPS's CBS implementation. Two teachers from each site were selected to participate, including an original adopting teacher (OAT), or one wit h WPS since the start of the competency based reform, as well as a late adopting teacher (LAT), or one with WPS after initial implementation of CBS began. Principals however were not grouped by tenure because a low n count created deductive disclosure con cerns Each participating principal was asked to voluntary join the study and to identify two appropriate teachers at their school who also voluntarily agreed to participate. Each respondent was interviewed individually, resulting in a total of nine inte rviews for the study. A semi structured interview instrument was used because of its ability to explore individual perceptions regarding the complex topic of CBE. Furthermore, the semi structured interview process allowed for additional probing and clari fication of answers when needed (Barriball & While, 1994). A semi structured interview guide was adapted from Koenen, Dochy, & Berghmans (2015), which itself was adapted from Dochy and Nickmans' (2005) research concerning CBE experiences (Koenen et al., 2 015). Interview questions (see Appendix A) were generated to understand respondents' definitions of instruction, assessment, and student

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47 competency within a CBE system, as well as key features that define a CBE environment. Furthermore, respondents were asked to identify successes and barriers seen in their school and in the WPS' CBE model in general. The interview questions were designed to answer three primary research objectives (see Appendix B), and were modified slightly between principals and teach ers to differentiate between building and classroom practices. The foll owing summary was generated from the findings of A phenomenological case study of competency based approaches to education: A ground based look at one public school district. Reference this report for a complete listing of data findings, code frequencies, and participant responses. Since this phenomenological case study aimed to understand the personal experiences of these elementary educators working within a competency based educatio n system, much consideration was taken for how best to represent their thoughts. After careful review of the participants' responses, it became evident that their story could best be t old through their own voices. Toward this end, the following discussio n of findings uses direct quotations from the interviews to ensure the unique experiences of these CBE educators are described as they see it Discussion of Findings It is important to begin with a discussion concerning the definition of competency based education. Recognizing the complexity of implementation, the study first setout to determine if participants' theoretical definitions of CBE varied from their operational definitions. Second, the study aimed to discover how closely these operational defi nitions aligned to the Competency Works' definition of high quality CBE. Participants identified several different theoretical elements. First, CBE determines academic progression only by a student's demonstrated competency in particular subject content s One teacher mentioned how, "As they [students] demonstrate proficiency on all the targets in a level they can move on to the next level. Theoretically it's at your own pace learning" while another said, "Well I guess the most concise definition is stu dents, in order that

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48 they move forward in a competency based model show proficiency in their current level before moving onto the next one". At the same time, others highlighted how CBE personalizes learning through differentiating instruction to meet aca demic need, instead of chronological grade level. "I think the piece is you are teaching the kids where they're at, that you are focused on making sure that you meet their needs and move them forward, instead of setting the bar and then expecting them to meet it just because of chronological age". Another teacher discussed how competency based education is "A system that organizes instruction and groups based on the levels students are performing at, not necessarily their age. This opposed to an aged bas ed system where they are moving forward because they turned a certain age". Discussion also focused on the need for time to be variable. "It's that learning is constant, time is variable. Kids can move through their education at their own speed, so it's personalized". A principal mentioned individualized instruction too. "Theoretically it [competency based education] would be allowing a student to achieve standards at their instructional level and an instructional pace that is right for the child[whil e] students have a voice in choosing how they show their work or demonstrate proficiency, in what they choose to work on based on interest as it relates to a standard" while another said, "You can think of student leadership when you think of competency ba sed education". In summation, one teacher described CBE as "Kids moving at their own pace and getting what they need, when they need it. Also, us supplying them with the things that they need; it might not look the same as it does for their neighbor, so just making sure that every student is ready to go, or if a student needs some extra help to be successful, that we are providing that for them". With these theoretical definition ideas in mind, it is interesting to see how CBE was described after being p ut into practice. Both successes and challenges were highlighted as participants described their CBE environments. Most operational definitions began with performance base grouping students by assessment results. These multi aged learning environments decreased the need for

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49 differentiation. One teacher said, In my room right now I have multiple age levels who are pretty much at the same performance level, which does make it easier to differentiate because I don't have a lot of different academic level s". But within these classrooms students still grow at the different rates. This creates a need for re grouping throughout the year as students' progress at their own speed. Referencing this, one teacher discussed the importance of ensuring a "constant movement of students from classroom to classroom, where they can best get their needs met, where they can have all those resources that are individualized for them", while a principal discussed the need to support this through schedule design. "So you end up with a much more fluid schedule, a much more complicated master schedule where students don't necessarily have one teacher, they usually have two and the age groups can vary in the classrooms by a couple of years". Operationally speaking, performance based groupings were a defining factor of CBE. Another operational element was the creation of a personalized learning environment. As the participants described individualizing education, both successes and challenges were detailed. To begin, many belie ved CBE generates awareness by students of the learning process, as well as ownership. One teacher said, So that's an important part, giving kids those skills where they can independently figure out what they need for their independent levels, which is v ery different from a traditional classroom where the whole class is learning the same thing". Most often this awareness was achieved through goal setting and tracking of academic progress in data notebooks. One principal stated, "[What] I really believe in is the ownership of the kid, you know, student ownership of learning in our system is big. So we do a lot for that. We set goals. Every kid has a data notebook and in their data notebook they will have multiple goal setting, action plans, and data tr ackers". The participants discussed multiple benefits to student ownership First, in a CBE system students know their learning levels and the steps needed to gain proficiency. One teacher discussed how goal setting is Having kids know where they're

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50 go ing, and having kids know what they need to do to fill gaps. Because you have kids at the same [performance] level, but they all have different needs, so making sure that they know what they need." While another said, "A really great part of the [CBE] sy stem is kids know where they're at, [and] if they are tracking what they're doing, it should never be a surprise to them of what they need to work on". Student goal setting was also discussed in relation to differentiated instruction. One teacher mention ed how students "Have goals based upon where they are, so some students are forming sentences while others are still writing words. So I typically have them set goals and we meet together in groups to work on their goals". The educators also expressed ho w goals increased student buy in. One teacher stated that "Part of the goal setting is that motivation piece", while another described how "when they [student] pull up the snapshot of their goal and watch their graph go up, that's exciting, because they w ant their graph to go upsometimes kids will ask if I can make them a test so they can prove they are proficient, which is really awesome". Respondents discussed challenges as well. One of these was the difficulty of creating an individualized learnin g environment, specifically not having enough time to effectively differentiate for each student. One teacher said, Operationally, especially with high class sizes it [individualized education] is tough. Knowing 25 students in a class it just becomes ve ry difficult to manage." Another mentioned how hard it is To be able to know each student and where they're at, and not just in reading but math, and science, and now personal/social skills, all while monitoring behaviors". Many respondents described ac hieving personalized learning through strategic small group instruction. One teacher said they "cannot differentiate instruction down to the individual student, so operationally individual instruction occurs more through centers, activities, small groupin gs, and different choice activities". While another said, "I'm tailoring a lot of my instruction, direct instruction and practice into small groups. So that is one way I'm trying to be true to that individualized education piece". For one teacher, the s truggles to

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51 personalize learning resulted with whole group instruction. "But again, getting this down to the individual level is hard because in theory, not every kid should be working on the same targets at the same time, but managing that all and knowing where each kid is, or should be is hard. So then I fall back to the whole group thing still. So, we're all going to do this together now, instead of trying to individualize". Clearly the ability to differentiate to the individual level is difficult and hinders the ability to deliver individualized instruction. Challenges to personalization were also discussed in relation to time being variable. Many believed that when kids are performing below grade level time must be a factor. "Time, I'd like to say is variable, however realistically with the school year only being so long, I have to make determinations about how long we spend on a learning task before moving on and sometimes that requires us to move on before every kid is proficient". Another teach er expressed concern saying "And you know I mean, I don't know. I just want for them, if you're behind in your performance levels, kids don't have unlimited time. They have to get caught up, so there is that feeling of pressure. I think we feel if we ca n't get kids to a certain point by a certain time, then I don't know". Clearly, the true variability of time is in question when external forces pull on the implementation of a competency based system. In conclusion, the study's participants theoretically defined CBE as personalized learning with individualized academic progressions d etermined by student competency on specific content standards. However, operationally speaking CBE is more defined by multi aged performance based groupings, which leads to a decreased need for differentiation. With this said, personalized education is most often realized through small group instruction due to time and class size constraints. Finally, student ownership in the learning process is generated through goal settin g practices and individual tracking of academic progressions in data notebooks. Clearly, variations exist between the respondents' theoretical and operational definitions of CBE. However with

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52 this in mind, it is important to see how the operational defin itions compare to Competency Works' definition of CBE. The five high quality CBE elements as defined by Competency Works are listed below with discussion surrounding how the study's respondents' theoretical and operational definitions compared. Students advance upon mastery Participants' primary theoretical defining characteristic of CBE focused on mastery serving as the prerequisite for academic progression. Several summarized this belief by stating in a CBE environment "Time is the variable, while lea rning is the constant". One principal discussed the ability to re group classrooms mid year after new assessment data is collected. We revisit those data points periodically throughout the year, usually BOY, MOY, EOY, [and] we make those shifts. So I t hink in terms of being able to flexibly group kids, allowing them to move at their own pace other than the traditional one year boom, one year boom, we do have those in place as well". Although student advancement upon mastery was discussed, challenges ex ist in the management of this, especially with high class sizes. Identifying individual need, tracking student progress, and differentiating support for 25 or more students was unmanageable for many of the participants. For me to keep track of where each kid is individually is very hard, because if I am going to help guide their individual instruction, I need to know where each kid isSo my class works in groups, so it is not as individualized as I had hoped, or would like it to beThey keep their scores individually, but I have had to keep track of [student] progress in groups". It is also important to note that disparities existed between participants in relation to how student competency is defined and measured, a topic that will be discussed in furthe r detail later.

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53 Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable learning objectives that empower students Most respondents discussed competencies in relation to the Learning Targets (academic standards) embedded within WPS' Proficiency Scales. Th e Proficiency Scales, created by WPS educators, organize student competencies into thematically grouped Learning Targets, and establish foundational skills that progress up to those Learning Targets that require higher order thinking and are used to determ ine competency. Embedded into the Scales are Success Criteria, or can do descriptors for each Learning Target that are explicit, measureable, and transferable. Several of the respondents discussed their use of the Proficiency Scales. I use the Success Criteria on the Proficiency Scales. I do every single step of the Success Criteriabecause when you are teaching the very beginning of reading and math skills, students have to have every piece. So I work with them and we climb every ladder". Another te acher discussed how the Scales are used to determine student learning progressions. "I mean we have Common Core, but it is so big and so broad[so] I take a look at the details within the Proficiency Scales and those progressions to see what comes next". Finally, another teacher spoke how the Scales empower student learning, specifically by identifying each step a student must take to develop competency. I think the Proficiency Scales lend themselves really well to the development of skills, because the y have those steps that they [students] build upon. You have the first steps that you go over the terminology we're going to use, and then you move onto to step 2, then step 3". Clearly, through the use of Proficiency Scales, WPS has implemented explicit and measureable competencies, that through the instructional practices of student ownership discussed earlier, empower students.

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54 Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students Theoretically, respondents overwhelmingly belie ve assessments must be differentiated to ensure students are provided individual avenues to demonstrate competency. One principal discussed how CBE Has the ability for kids to show you what they know in a way that works best for them", while another teac her stated, "I think that the biggest thing I try to focus on is having multiple assessments. I give my kids multiple ways to show me what they know; it's not just a paper/pencil test at the end of a unit". In addition, respondents believe CBE must prov ide opportunities for students' to analyze their academic performance to better understand their own learning progressions. "Definitely the most successful is them [students] being able to evaluate themselves on their proficiency levels[to] determine thi s is where I'm at, this is where I'm going, and they use the Proficiency Scales through out the day to see how well they understand something". Another element of differentiated assessment focused on the need to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate competency. So instead of giving a big assessment to everyone, where I say OK if you pass this assessment you get the target, and some kids will do it, but other kids still don't understand it. So making sure that they have multiple chan ces, whether it's another assessment or whether it's a review of them telling me that they understand it". With this said though, as was the case with personalizing instruction, participants discussed challenges to personalizing assessments. Operational ly, especially with the class size numbers we have its tough. Knowing, even getting through 25 students in a class period or two, to let them show you individually, it just becomes very difficult to manage, it becomes very challenging to allow every stude nt to have their say, to show you what they can do". Another teacher highlighted this sentiment when discussing how they attempt to differentiate assessment by providing menu options, however struggle to effectively provide this to each student. "And the re is all those different ways kids can and should be able to show [learning]...So putting in huge menus of options for kids to do, which doesn't always happen, but ideally that's what I

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55 would like to get to". Clearly the educators understand the value of differentiating assessment, but struggle to adequately put into practice. Finally, assessment data were used to determine performance based groupings and intervention services. One principal highlighted this in detail by discussing how their school "Wil l go through and create data cards for each student[and] talk about each individual kidwe see kids who need the very same skills, then we group those kids and provide them the support through pullout or push in, or co teaching, or whatever it calls for t o meet those kids' needs". Another teacher discussed the use of assessment data to determine groupings for small group instruction. "Based on initial assessment from the beginning of the year for reading groups, I group students based off their DIBELS an d Scantron scores and all the other one on one assessment data, I group them into groups based upon proficiency in reading. So groups are grouped based upon what they need to work on". It is clear that the educators interviewed are using assessments in a variety of ways to create meaningful learning environments and opportunities for students to demonstrate competency in diverse ways. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs Each respondent discussed a beli ef that a CBE environment needs to provide timely, individual, differentiated support, however operationally speaking, the challenges of not having enough time to provide a true personalized learning experience was real. In reference to this one teacher s aid, So just that one on one time, talking with the student, getting to know where the y're at, what their understanding is, not just of the topic itself but the tool you're using. And that's where it becomes a challenge to get to everybody in a timely ma nner, while still teaching the content". Another teacher uses student ownership to create an individualized environment. "Operationally competency based education is challenging. So [I] differentiate by giving kids choice and voice within their center wo rk". Most participants described this defining element as the hardest to accomplish, yet also the one they believe to be most impactful.

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56 Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the developme nt of important skills and dispositions Many respondents believed CBE promotes the development of important skills through student ownership of the learning process. "So student centered learning has to give kids resources, plus it has to give them a lot of opportunities to practice the skillset of good decision making". Part of this process includes goal setting as several participants highlighted. Goal setting is a tremendous life skill for kids, whether they choose to go onto college or not, they're setting goals. They're small goals but they're goals, and this is something that will help kids drive into the future", while a principal discussed how "We're trying to set the stage at the elementary level of a concept that I think is really built for f uture success in middle and high school. Because that's really what life is about, it is about setting goals, knowing what your future goals are, and what you need to do now to achieve them". At the same time, another principal discussed how students sim ply needing to demonstrate their competency before academically advancing helped develop important dispositions. "I do think that saying you have to be able to do this to prove you're competent' lends itself to those deeper taxonomy skills that you have to be able to do for higher learning". Finally, and in contrary to the other respondents, one teacher discusse d a belief that CBE actually had a dampening effect on this defining element. "I actually see it the other way. Since I've been a part of the C BS model I feel like I've actually been able to focus less on the application piece. I have not experienced that as an overt piece of a competency based approach, it doesn't jump out at me as something that CBS is really about". This educator explained f urther that for students who are below grade level, getting caught up is most important. Many Learning Targets do not require a deeper application of knowledge to be measured proficient (Score 3), so they move on to the next target without gaining this. "A lot of the standards don't necessarily emphasize application. So when you're looking at the

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57 progressions, a lot don't go to the level of a Score 4[and] we are working real hard just to get to a Score 3. So I don't feel that we are making that next st ep". By in large the WPS participants agreed that their implementation of CBE aligned with Competency Works' five defining elements of high quality CBE. Moving beyond the definitional elements, the next major findings focused on CBE implementation strate gies seen across the schools and classrooms. Performance Based Groupings As stated earlier, most participants' discussed how operationally CBE begins with performance based groupings. Respondents stated that grouping by content area decreased different iation need since all learners within a room possess similar academic competencies. We group students in a way that requires less differentiation. You don't have to worry about a six level spread in a room. So right there you can drive kids to a more t angible finish lineThe competency based system is strong in that it takes those goal posts and shrinks them significantly". With this said, participants expressed a belief that performance scores should not be the only grouping consideration. Several re asons for this existed, including a belief that multi grade level groupings should not exceed two years age difference. One principal mentioned, I don't believe that I can have 2 nd through 5 th graders in a class. I'm not going to put 7 year olds with 12 year olds, so in my mind I have about a two grade level span that I will agree to place kids, unless they are an outlier". At the same time a teacher spoke how elementary aged children like being with like aged peers. It is still hard juggling multiple levels or multi aged classrooms. I see that having kids all in a similar performance level is good, but then having multi aged rooms, I feel like that piece is hard. I have multiple grades in my room and sometimes I feel like the kids just want to be wi th their same aged peers". In addition to age, others were cautious about grouping students only from performance based data. A principal discussed how In the beginning I adopted a purist' model, where I had 300 students so I ranked

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58 ordered 1 300 and c ut it [classroom groupings] into 12 partsthat was a big mistake because I considered nothing else in the process. There is more to a room than a grade or performance level. You have to know personalities, who works with them at home, kids' individual mo tivations and how are they going to get through this". Clearly the participants believe considerations other than student ability levels must be accounted for when generating student groupings, even if this increases the need for differentiation. Anothe r CBE structural design consideration focused on performance base grouping students for each content area. Rarely does a student perform at the same level across all subjects. However, regrouping requires multiple transitions throughout the day, and dimin ishes the relationships teachers have with each child, both of which were viewed negatively by the elementary educators. In reference to this, one principal said "The leveling of the kids, while also thinking these kids are still 8 years old and need to h ave relationships with the teacher, makes running a middle school type schedule hard. An 8 year old does not need have a class change every 40 minuteswe did that before, had 3 or 4 transitions during the middle of the day and our data was never worse bec ause we lost the relationships, we lost the teacher knowledge of the kid" Another teacher spoke about this by saying So you know there is the art and science of teaching in a competency based system that really comes into play. You have to know your le arners. I mean so back to the thing about grouping your kids, you have to know your learners, who can benefit from whole group, who is going to benefit from small group, and what kind of small group is that". Most of the schools surveyed do not utilize m ultiple mid day transitions, so classroom groupings were determined by one content area only. Two schools grouped by literacy performance, while math was used in the third. This leads to a wider range of ability levels within a single room. Discussing t his reality, one teacher said I struggle with the competency based model because I feel like we are supposed to have more split up by a low class and high class, at least that is my impression of a competency based model, but in reality

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59 we try to do that a little bit, but then we didn't go back and reorganize after initial groupings, so I have quite the range of abilities in my room". With this said, schools do utilize a mid day transition for students testing significantly above or below the non prioriti zed content area. Another form of grouping is in relation to intervention services and small group instruction. Recognizing that students grow at different rates throughout the year, CBE requires groupings to be fluid. Speaking toward this, one teacher said, Ideally in a competency based system you are changing your groups constantly", while another spoke about the need to "Constantly look at data to make sure kids are grouped with, you know, you have those groups of kids that are working on similar th ings, but also understanding that even in a CBS system we really want kids working at their own levels". When considering these groupings, choosing the correct assessment data is important. All three schools discussed the use of skill deficit metrics (i. e. DIBELS assessment results) to group reading intervention services, while two schools do the same for math intervention (i.e. Scantron). We will go through and create data cards for each studentwe'll look at performance and look for the trends that ar e in all of those assessments, and then do a diagnostic like DIBELS Deep and really get it down to what is the actual skill to be working on with an individual child that will personalize itthe interventionists will then go work with the classroom teacher s and out of that conversation you start to see groupings occur". One school uses gaps in Learning Target completion within Empower (student recording tool) to determine math intervention groupings. Referencing this grouping strategy, the principal said, The initial grouping is based upon completion of Learning Targetsso if you're looking at math you may have kids who are almost done with Level 3 grouped with kids who are not that far into Level 4". One challenge highlighted with using skill deficit d eterminations for groupings arose when attempting to record a student's academic progression. Several teachers struggled working within two systems, specifically because student progression in WPS is based upon completion of Learning Targets in Empower, w hich does not always align to literacy

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60 skillsets as measured by a DIBELS assessment. Discussing this one teacher said, [It} is a struggle because we have all these specific reading needs and then you have learning targets as well. So we are constantly t rying to figure out how to mesh the two. This is a challenge in the CBS system", while another spoke about how "The reading groups[are] based on what they need for DIBELS, but I'm also keeping in the back of my mind those Learning Targets that they need to meet in Empower, because DIBELS and Empower don't always match up". All participants believed performance based grouping was a critical component to a CBE system, however variability existed with how schools group students into classrooms, as well as f or intervention and small group instruction. However, differences in implementation become even wider when looking at how student competency is defined and measured. Defining and Measuring Student Competency In many ways, abandoning the traditional time b ound Carnegie Unit in preference for a mastery based academic progression is at the heart of a competency design. To better understand this unique feature, one of the structured interview questions asked participants how they define and measure student co mpetency. When looking across the responses, variations existed. To begin, most participants defined competency as the successful completion of the WPS' Proficiency Scales (a thematic grouping of Learning Targets). One teacher highlighted this by statin g, "It [competency] is defined to me in the Proficiency Scales. They state what a kid needs to do", while another said "Something we are getting more towards this year is Success Criteria. We've talked about delineating this line, here is the success crit eria of what delineates proficiency". The Scales utilize a 1 4 scoring mechanism, whereas a Score 3 denotes competency. So when a student reaches a Score 3 as delineated by those [Proficiency Scales] progressions, they are competent when they have passe d all the Learning Targets in that level with a Score 3". With this said, confusion existed amongst some participants concerning what qualifies a Score 3. One teacher spoke about how It can be difficult to know exactly what piece

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61 of student work is a Sc ore 2 versus a Score 3, especially on items that are more complexI'm having trouble figuring out if it [student work] is overall a Score 2, or overall is a Score 3". While another teacher defined student competency as a Score 2. "They have to also be abl e to meet a Score 2 or higher on the Scale so that I know it is not just luck". In addition, how participants use the Proficiency Scales to define competency varied, leading to inconsistencies across the system. Several respondents defined competency as occurring only after a student can demonstrate new knowledge, or a particular skillset multiple times and across different settings. One teacher said, "OK, you got this skill once, now show me two more times and you can move onto the next skill", while an other spoke about students needing to Show me, tell me, then show me and tell me again, because I want to make sure its not a one time snapshot, I want to make sure that they actually have the skill or competency. So, they have to show me, and I love it when they can show me a number of ways". Another teacher discussed defining competency through multiple avenues by saying, "They have to have at least 3 pieces of evidence. If we take an assessment, they have to be able to show me that they can move back wards, you know, backwards solve it". Other responses attempted to define competency in relation to what students can do with the newly learned knowledge or skill. Student competency would be a demonstration that a student has gained the knowledge and s kill of a particular learning target, and can apply it", while another discussed how, "A competent studentis someone who can perform a certain task without any guidance, but isn't ready to teach someone else, but is confident enough in their knowledge tha t they can perform it 100% of the time independently". Finally, one principal discussed the importance of teacher insight into determining student competency. It goes back to how do we define competency? Is it a numerical score? I'm not going to say t hat. I'm not going to say you have to have an 80% on this quiz to be competent. But the teacher has to have a sense that this kid can be marked off on this set of scores, or this proficiency target and be confident that the kid can be successful on the n ext one". Clearly,

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62 among the participants no single definition or method of measurement existed for determining student competency. With this said, when discussing the successes and barriers of their CBE implementation efforts, the participants' response s were more closely aligned. Successes of CBE Implementation A common success expressed by the participants focused on the ability to provide each child with meaningful learning opportunities. This begins with effectively identifying student competency, and from that data creating effective performance base groupings. In reference to this one principal said, What has been successful is we have a pretty darn good idea of where our kids standI don't think our system is perfect, but we do go through a rig orous process to identify what our kids can and cannot do. So I do think that is a tremendous success of the system". Discussing these same sentiments a teacher said, "Early [beginning of school year] assessments give us an opportunity to put kids into l earning groups so that we can put kids into groups based upon what they know and what they need", while at the same time another teacher discussed how "We take each kid's score and sort them into categories and then every time we progress monitor, we re so rt again. So this is the way I've found is the easiest to keep up with, and be able to fine tune my small groups based upon specific needs". But, a simple performance base grouping of kids does not guarantee meaningful instruction. A competency based en vironment also requires the learning level in those classrooms meet the needs of the learners. One teacher discussed the ability of CBE to do just this when they said "Once you get kids into groups it does feel really powerful. Because when you do get yo ur groups right, and you see kids all getting the right thingsI think that has been one of the most positive things". A principal discussed this in reference to the coordinated efforts between teachers and interventionists to meet kids at their instructi onal level. "You will see them all working together not worrying about what grade level a kid is, but instead making sure they're closing gapsthey are [teachers and interventionists] very good at knowing where kids are and what the next step in instructi on

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63 should be". One teacher felt their biggest success was matching instruction to the correct ability levels of kids, especially since most of the learners in their classroom are below grade level. "I typically have those struggling students in my classr oom, so the most successful piece for me is taking those kids where they're at and working with them at that level". Without a doubt these educators believe the ability to match instructional to the competency levels of their performance based groups was a huge success of CBE, however it wasn't the only one mentioned. Another effective element of CBE discussed focused on generating student ownership into the learning process. Highlighting this one principal said, "By far the biggest piece is our data note books and the piece of action planning because I really believe the crux of our system is student ownership in learning. You cannot take ownership out and have a sense of where you need to go in a CBS system". Speaking to the successes of this, one teach er discussed how data notebooks provide students with an understanding of their next steps toward competency. "So I talked about data notebooks being a huge key because it allows kids to look at a glance at what they need to do", while another teacher sai d, students track their steps in the Proficiency Scales, you know the numbered steps in the Scales are sort of the ladder of progressionso they [students] can monitor themselves and put a sticky note into a journal to see what they need to do based upon the things that we are working on". But its not only students being aware of their next learning steps, a CBE system also ensures kids know what being competent will look like. "Definitely the most successful thing is kids being able to evaluate themsel ves on their proficiency levels because they know they're next stepI can start a lesson and I can say, OK guys this is a Score 3 and kids begin to think about what proficiency will look like". In reference to this another teacher said, "With the Proficie ncy Scales kids can tell me I'm a 2, or I'm a 3'. So making sure kids can understand the Proficiency Scales, and the proficiency within the levels has been successful". Clearly the participants feel successful with generating student ownership

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64 through t he use of data notebooks and Proficiency Scales, and believe working within a CBE system helps create this. With this said, a common barrier was mentioned numerous times that could potentially inhibit many of the successes, both potential and realized, wi thin the CBE system. Barriers to CBE Implementation When looking at the responses both time and class size were discussed as challenges to effective implementation of the CBE system. Each participant interviewed mentioned these barriers in one way or anot her. First, several teachers stated an inability to be true to the CBE system because of class size. So, I love, love the theory of CBS, because that is what education should be, but I feel like the implementation of it, at least with the numbers [class size] we have, it is a challenge and I don't believe we can truly do the system justice as it stands right now". Concerns focused on not being able to personalize instruction One principal discussed this directly by saying, You lower the number of kid s that each teacher is working with and you would see that personalized learning, that being able to keep up with the data, the recording, its just going to happen with more quality". At the same time, a teacher discussed how not be ing able to sit down with a each kidis the most challenging for me, especially with the class sizes that we have. I don't feel like I have the time to individualize instruction, or sit down with kids one on one to personalize their experience". Another teacher discussed, ho w in their opinion, too high of class sizes ultimately stunts student growth. In a perfect world I would be able to know everything every student is doing, and be able to plan whole units and lessons for each kid. And yeah, I feel like this is the true CBS model, if we could have exact individual needs and targets met we'd have a lot more movement between all the levels than we do". In addition, others felt smaller class sizes would allow for deeper data digs, ensuring a better understanding of the indi vidual needs and differentiated instructional strategies for each child Furthering on this, one teacher discussed how they want to be able to "Sit down and look at the

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65 data, and not just at a glance but really look deep. Look at what does Timmy need to work on, what does he need to do, what is going to drive him most to get this skill?' Because I feel like we can sit down and look at the data from all of our diagnosticsbut really digging deep is something that doesn't happen with 30 [students]". In a ddition to class size, the other common concern centered on time, or a lack thereof. When looking at the responses it is clear that time and class size are in reality dependent of one another. Lower class sizes would allow for more time spent planning, in structing, and assessing each student, while also reducing the amount of student data each teacher ultimately needs to work with. In reference to this one principal said, "Obviously time is going to be the one everybody has a problem with. I don't have a nyone here who is against CBS, they're challenges are all in time. They want to do the right thing, they want to do it well, and they want to do what's best for their kids. The challenge is keeping up with it all" Another principal expressed similar co ncerns. "So you have to know your kids, you have to know what each kid needs, keep up with their individual data, and these pieces are time consuming with 30 students per class. So in my mind, smaller class sizes are a factor of scale. If you have small er class sizes, I just see it done better, I just see higher quality". Several teachers discussed how a lack of time prevents them from being able to individualize instruction. The biggest challenge is time. To be able to sit down with every kid, to he lp them goal set and to track where they are, that takes a lot of timethat's been my struggle is finding the time", while another teacher said, "But again, getting this down to the individual level is hard because in theory, not every kid should be workin g on the same targets at the same time, but managing that, so like if this kid is doing this target, and that kid is doing that target, you know, how do you manage that?" Finally, speaking honestly a teacher discussed how class size and time ultimately pr event them from being the CBE teacher they want to be. "I think a competency based system does require more in terms of data collection, management, and figuring out where students are, and then individualizing that

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66 instructionso with the large class siz es it makes it really challenging because there isn't enough time. You know what you need to do, but there just isn't enough time to make it happen". Clearly, class sizes and the feeling of not having enough time leads to an inability to individualize in struction. Since most of the educators interviewed stated that personalized education was a central tenet to CBE, this reality poses a significant challenge to implementation efforts. However, there was one other common barrier discussed that did not foc us on internal CBE design, but instead external factors. One truth about CBE is it is not common across many K 12 systems. Another truth is the nation still operates under grade level structures. Many participants expressed frustration with the friction that exists between CBE and the traditional organizational structures that govern public education, specifically the standardized tests the state uses for accountability. "We say that time is the variable' except that isn't the case for the people who a ccredit us. Time is very much not variable for them. You have to show that kids can do something at a very specific time. So it feels like we are always at odds with the rest of the education world". Speaking directly to state testing, one teacher disc ussed the challenges of teaching a student at their performance level all year, to only then be administered a grade level exam standardized exam at the end of the year. "We want to teach kids at their levelbut we have a huge pressure and constraint from the statewe tell the kids that we're going to teach you at your level, but in the spring you have to take this big test that you have not had any exposure to because its not at your academic performance level". Another teacher discussed concerns about s tudents who leave the CBE system to a traditional school district. Say I have a Level 4 student who is an actual 5 th grader, but they are only getting 4 th grade material. If for some reason they were to move to another district, they haven't had any 5 th grade content. Before I thought this system was perfect in that we were meeting kids where they are, that is what good teaching is, but I fear when kids don't have grade level exposurethey aren't getting everything they need". Finally, another

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67 teacher summarized this friction when saying, "That grade system has been around for 100 years in America, but our system really emphasizes that kids can't think of themselves as graders'in some instances it feels that the competency based system works against t he system we have to play inthere is plenty of scrutiny on public education and we seem to run crossways even more because we are staking out this position [CBE]". Clearly it is not easy operating a CBE system that is not recognized, nor aligned with the existing traditional educational structures in place. With this said though, the participants interviewed still believe CBE is the right work. Why Competency based Education? Despite the challenges and barriers discussed, many of the respondents express ed a deep seated belief that CBE is the right work. "We all want to do this, we believe it's the right thing for kids, because we've seen the success". Another teacher expressed belief in the system because it allows for students to demonstrate their lea rning through non traditional avenues. "We work really hard to try to come up with ways and skills to help them get there, and it doesn't always have to be a particular way. So by having multiple assessments, or multiple ways of looking at what they know they can show me what they know in ways that maybe they have never been allowed to show their knowledge before". Finally, and maybe most importantly, several participants expressed a belief that CBE gives every kid a chance, regardless of how far below grade level they might be. "I mean I have a 5 th grader who is a Level 2 kid, and when he passes targets and his graph goes up, that is awesome. He would never have these successes in a traditional classroom. He wouldn't realistically be able to pass 5 th grade contentso I think that's really cool just watching him be able to celebrate his successes". Clearly despite the challenges of CBE, these educators still believe it is the right way to educate kids. Implications for Practice and Future Researc h As stated previously, very few K 12 CBE systems are in place, leaving a void of experiential research concerning those practitioners carrying out such reforms in schools and

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68 classrooms. This phenomenological case study attempted to provide these persp ectives, specifically in relation to definitional attributes and implementation practices of CBE inside of Westminster Public Schools. This study highlighted the differences between the participants' theoretical definitions of CBE and the operational defi nitions put into practice, as well as the unique insights into how WPS designed their CBE model and lessons learned from the successes and barriers of these decisions. The hope is othe r educators considering implementation of a competency based system can learn from these early adopters, and deepen their understanding of a CBE system already in place. Clearly the WPS educators' experiences are unique, and can pr ovide interested parties a framework from which to begin their own CBE design considerations. The study found several areas that may garner future research. To begin, the lack of consistency across participants regarding the definition and measurement of student competency needs to be further explored. As was discussed, a CBE system allows for an d by definition requires students to progress academically only after competency is achieved, making determinations of proficiency a critical component to the successful adoption of a CBE system. With this said, consistently defining and measuring student competency ac ross multiple content areas, learning objectives and classrooms was not simply achieved in WPS Additional research t oward how best to define student competency, as well as the development of a reliable measurement tool with strong inter rat er re liability would help mitigate the inc onsistencies seen in this study Another avenue for future research surrounds the effect of class size on personalized learning in CBE environments As this study highlighted, many teachers discussed an inability to individualize a student's education because of unmanageable student counts. Since m any of the respondents believed personalized learning t o be the central tenet to CBE, this finding is of great importance. M any dis tricts wishing to adopt CBE face bu dget and facility constraints that lead

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69 to higher class size s so simply reducing student numbers is not always a feasible solution to ensuring individualized instruction occurs Future res earch is needed to determine what effect class size has on persona lized learning and if structural design strategies can mitigate its impacts. Next, it would be interesting to compare the phenomenological experiences of WPS educators to those of other K 12 CBE systems already in place. Do the theoretical and operation al definitions of the practitioners align? Do other systems use performance base groupings in the same capacity? If not, how are classrooms compositions determined, and to what effect ? Do other CBE systems believe personalized learning to be a critical component like WPS ? Also, do other CBE environments have simil ar class sizes and what comparisons can be derived in relation to individualized learning ? Clearly WPS is not the only system attempting to implement this type of complex reform so any effort s to bring more CBE educator voices into the discussion would be beneficial. Conclusion Without a doubt competency based education radically restructures the design of traditional schooling. When individualized competency based academic progressio ns replace the time bound measures traditionally used, the fundamental rules that govern schooling change. V ery few K 12 systems have adopted such a reform, leaving those who have with unique insights that others can learn from This phenomenological cas e study attempted to document these educators' experiences to better understand the successes, barriers, and beliefs held about CBE and hopefully through their voices, will provides insight for other systems interested in adopting such a model in their own schools and districts.

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70 REFERENCES AdvanceED (2016). External review report: Westminster Public Schools [Lecture notes]. Retrieved from AdvancED: http://www.advanc ed.org Barriball, K. L., & While, A. (1994, May 26). Collecting data using a semi structure d interview: A discussion paper. Journal of Advanced Nursing 19 328 335. Colby, S. A. (1999, March). Grading in a standards based system. Educational Leadership 52 55. Competency Works. (n.d.). http://www.competencyworks.org/about/competency education/ Denscombe, M. (2010). The good research guide: For small scale social research projects (4th ed.). Maidenhead, England: McGraw Hill/Open University Press. Diefenbach, T. (2009, November). Are case studies more than sophisticated storytelling?: Methodologic al problems of qualitative empirical research mainly based on semi structured interviews. Quality and Quantity 43 875 894. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11135 008 9164 0 Dochy, F., & Nickmans, G. (2005). Competentiegericht opleiden en toetsen. Den Haag Far rington, C. A., & Small, M. H. (2008). A new model of student assessment for the 21st century Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum. Fisher, R. J. (1993, Sep.). Social desirability bias and the validity of indirect questioning. Journal of Consumer R esearch 20 303 315. Retrieved from http://0 www.jstor.org.skyline.ucdenver.edu/stable/2489277 Freeland, J. (2014). From policy to practice: How competency based education is evolving in New Hampshire Lexington, MA: Clayton Christensen Institute. Glowa, L. (2013). Re engineering information technology: Design considerations for competency education [Policy brief]. Retrieved from Competency Works: http://www.competencyworks.org/resources/briefing papers/ Grenham, O. (2014). Is competency based education f easible without a guaranteed viable curriculum? Retrieved from http://www.competencyworks.org/analysis/is competency based education feasible without a guaranteed viable curriculum/ Guilfoyle, C. (2006, November). NCLB: Is there life beyond testing? Educat ional Leadership 64 8 13. Johnstone, S. M., & Soares, L. (2014, March/April). Principles for developing competency based education programs. Change 12 18. Kaiser, K. (2009, Nov). Protecting respondent confidentiality in qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research 19 1632 1641. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1049732309350879

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71 Koenen, A., Dochy, F., & Berghmans, I. (2015). A phenomenographic analysis of the implementation of competency based education in higher education. Teaching and Teacher Education 1 12. Retrieved from www.elsevier.com Le, C., Wolfe, R. E., & Steinberg, A. (2014). The past and the promise: Today's competency education movement [White paper report]. Boston, MA: Students at the Center: Competency Education Research Series. Marton, F. (1981). Phenomenography: Describing conceptions of the world around us. Instructional Science 10 177 200. Newton, N. (2010). The use of semi structured interviews Retrieved from Academia: https://www.academia.edu/1561689/The_use_of_semi structured_inter views_in_qualitative_research_strengths_and_weaknesses?auto=downloa d Pace, L., & Worthen, M. (2014). Laying the foundation for competency education: A policy guide for the next generation educator workforce [Policy brief]. Retrieved from KnowledgeWorks: ww w.knowledgeworks.org Patrick, S., Kennedy, K., & Powell, A. (n.d.). Mean what you say: Defining and integrating personalized, blended and competency education [White paper report]. Vienna, CA: International Association for K 12 Online Learning. Patrick, S. & Sturgis, C. (2011). Cracking the code: Synchronizing policy and practice for performance based learning Vienna, VA: International Association for K 12 Online Learning. Patrick, S., & Sturgis, C. (2013). Necessary for success: Building mastery of world class skills [Issue brief]. Retrieved from Competency Works: http://www.competencyworks.org/resources/briefing papers/ Patrick, S., & Sturgis, C. (2015). Maximizing competency education and blended learning: Insights from experts [Issue brief]. Retrieved from Competency Works: http://www.competencyworks.org/resources/briefing papers/ Shenton, A. K. (2004, January 6). Strategies for ensuring trustworthiness in qualitative research projects. Education for Information 22 63 75. Shubilla, L., & Sturgis, C. ( 2012). The learning edge: Supporting student success in a competency based learning environment [Issue brief]. Retrieved from Competency Works: http://www.competencyworks.org/resources/briefing papers/ Silva, E., White, T., & Toch, T. (2015). The Carnegie Unit: A century old standard in changing educational landscape Stanford, CA: The Carnegie Foundation. Sturgis, C. (2012). The art and science of designing competencies [Issue brief]. Retrieved from Competency Works: http://www.competencyworks.org/resourc es/briefing papers/

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72 Sturgis, C., & Patrick, S. (2010). When success is the only option: Designing competency based pathways for next generation learning Retrieved from Competency Works: http://www.competencyworks.org/resources/briefing papers/ Sturgis, C. Patrick, S., & Pittenger, L. (2011). It's not a matter of time: Highlights from the 2011 competency based learning summit Vienna, VA: International Association for K 12 Online Learning. Tolich, M. (2004). Internal confidentiality: When confidentiality a ssurances fail relational informants. Qualitative Sociology 27 101 106. Tomlinson, C., & Demirsky Allan, S. (2000). Leadership for differentiating schools & classrooms Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Understanding competency education in K 12 [Fact Sheet]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://competencyworks.pbworks.com/w/page/66734494/Understanding%20Competency based%20Education University of Southern California Libraries website. (n.d.). http://libguides.usc.edu/writing guide/limitations Vander Ark, T. (2013). "Keep your 3, I want my A": What's up with standards based grading? Retrieved from http://gettingsmart.com/2013/11/keep 3 want whats standards based grading/ Wadsworth, Y. (1997). Do it yourself social research St. Leonards, Australia: Allen and Unwin.

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73 APPENDIX APPENDIX A INTERVIEW QUESTIONS Principal Questions Definition of CBE: 1. What is your theoretical definition of competency based education? 2. What are the key features of this definition? 3. What is the operat ing definition of competency based education at your school? 4. What are the key features of this definition? Implementation of CBE 5. What CBE processes and tools exist in your school for student grouping and academic progression? 6. How is student competency def ined and measured in your school? 7. What are key features of CBE instruction in your school? 8. How does CBE instruction emphasize application of knowledge and development of important skills? 9. What are key features of CBE assessment in your school? 10. How is CBE assessment used for learning? Successes and Barriers of Implementation: 11. Of your identified CBE processes and tools, which has your school been most successful at implementing? And which has your school been least successful at implementing? 12. Of your identi fied key features of CBE instruction, which has your school been most successful at implementing? And which has your school been least successful at implementing? 13. Of your identified key features of CBE assessment, which has your school been most successful at implementing? And which has your school been least successful at implementing? 14. Based upon your experiences, what have you found to be the largest barriers to implementing competency based education for you school? 15. Based upon your experiences, what adju stments can Westminster Public Schools make to increase the efficacy of its competency based education design? Teacher Questions Definition of CBE: 1. What is your theoretical definition of competency based education? 2. What are the key features of this defin ition? 3. What is the operating definition of competency based education at your school ? 4. What are the key features of this definition? Implementation of CBE

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74 5. What CBE processes and tools exist in your classroom for student grouping and academic progression ? 6. How do you define and measure student competency? 7. What are key features of your CBE instruction? 8. How does your CBE instruction emphasize application of knowledge and development of important skills? 9. What are key features of your CBE assessment? 10. How do y ou use CBE assessment for learning? Successes and Barriers of Implementation: 11. Of your identified CBE processes and tools, which have you been most successful at implementing? And which have you been least successful at implementing? 12. Of your identified key features of CBE instruction, which have you been most successful at implementing? And which have you been least successful at implementing? 13. Of your identified key features of CBE assessment, which have you been most successful at implementing? And which h ave you been least successful at implementing? 14. Based upon your experiences, what have you found to be the largest barriers to implementing competency based education in your classroom? 15. Based upon your experiences, what adjustments can Westminster Public Sc hools make to increase the efficacy of its competency based education model?

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75 APPENDIX B PRIMARY RESEARCH OBJECTIVES Primary research objective #1: Identify and compare the theoretical and operational definitions of CBE across and within WPS elementary s chools, both relative to the Competency Works best practices CBE definition (See questions 1 4). Primary research objective #2: Identify and compare CBE implementation strategies across and within WPS elementary schools (See questions 5 10). Research ob jective #3: Identify and compare success and barriers of CBE implementation across and within WPS elementary schools (See questions 11 15).

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76 APPENDIX C SCRIPT FOR STARTING INTERVIEWS Hello, and thank you for allowing me to interview you today. The pu rpose of this study is to better understand the definition and practice of the competency based system (CBS) in elementary schools here in Westminster Public Schools (WPS). A reality of competency based education (CBE) is it is relatively new in K 12 publ ic education, and currently there is not an agreed upon best practice, or even definition for that matter. As you may be aware, WPS was an early adopter of CBE and therefore, a lot can be learned by listening to the educators who were tasked with implemen ting it across WPS schools. Toward this end, I am interviewing principals and teachers from three different WPS elementary schools to gain a better understanding of what CBS is in WPS, and how it has been implemented. Your experiences with this are inval uable and quite unique, which is why I am interviewing you today. Before we get started I need to have your informed consent to participate. This consent form discusses in details key features of your participation. I'm going to give you some time to review it first and afterwards you will be allowed to ask any clarifying questions. If after this you agree to the terms, you will provide your informed consent by signing two copies of the document. One copy I will keep, the other will be for your recor ds. I want reiterate one item from the consent form, which is all answers you provide today and in any subsequent conversations will remain anonymous. In order to ensure participant responses are truthful and accurate, it is important that confidential ity be protected at all times. Toward this end, please know that any and all information you provide will not be known to anyone other than myself and other research assistants at the University of Colorado, Denver. Finally, I want to briefly introduce myself and why I'm interested in your experiences as a CBE educator. First, I am the principal of Tennyson Knolls here in WPS, so I too am a CBE educator and experience firsthand the joys and tribulations of implementing such a radical education reform. I also am graduate student at the University of Colorado, Denver where I am working toward my Doctorate in Education. I am my final year of study and currently working on my dissertation in practice, which focused on WPS' CBE implementation, and is why I 'm here interviewing you today.

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77 APPENDIX D CONSENT FOR PARTICIPATION IN RESEARCH INTERVIEW I volunteer to participate in a research project conducted by Brian Kosena from the University of Colorado, Denver. I understand that the project is designed to gather information about CBE inside of WPS. I will be one of 9 people being interviewed for this research study. 1. My participation in this project is voluntary. I understand that I will not be paid for my participation. I may withdraw and discontinue pa rticipation at any time without penalty. If I decline to participate or withdraw from the study, no one at my school will be told. 2. I understand that most interviewees will find the discussion interesting and thought provoking. If, however, I feel uncom fortable in any way during the interview session, I have the right to decline to answer any question or to end the interview. 3. Participation involves being interviewed by the PI from UCD. The interview will last approximately 30 45 minutes. Notes will b e written during the interview and an audio recording of the interview and subsequent dialogue will be taken. If I don't want to be taped, I will not be able to participate in the study. 4. I understand that the researcher will not identify me by name in any reports using information obtained from this interview, and that my confidentiality as a participant in this study will remain secure. Subsequent uses of records and data will be subject to standard data use policies, which protect the anonymity of ind ividuals and institutions. 5. Faculty and administrators from my school will neither be present at the interview nor have access to raw notes or transcripts. This precaution will prevent my individual comments from having any negative repercussions. 6. I understand that this research study has been reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for Studies Involving Human Subjects: Behavioral Sciences Committee at the University of Colorado, Denver. 7. I have read and understand the explan ation provided to me. I have had all my questions answered to my satisfaction, and I voluntarily agree to participate in this study. 8. I have been given a copy of this consent form. ____________________________ My Signature ____________________________ My Printed Name For further information, please contact: ____________________________ Signature of the Investigator

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78 APPENDIX E CODE FREQUENCY Theoretical Definition of CBE All Codes Time is variable 7, Individualized Education 6 Student Ownership 2, S tudent Voice/Choice 1, Student Centered Learning 3, Goal Setting 1, Data Tracking/Recording 1, Progression determined by competency 4, Differentiated Assessment 1 All Teachers Time is variable 4, Individualized Education 5, Student Centered Learning 2, S tudent Ownership 1, Progression determined by competency 2, Differentiated assessment 1 OAT Individualized education 3 Progression determined by competency 1, Time is variable 2, LAT Time is variable 2, Individualized Education 2, Student Centered Lear ning 2, Student Ownership 1, Progression determined by competency 1, Differentiated assessment 1 All Principals Time is variable 3 Individualized Education 1, Student Ownership 1, Student Voice/Choice 1, Student Centered Learning 1, Goal Setting 1, Data Tracking/Recording 1, Progression determined by competency 2 Highest Frequency Code Counts: Time is Variable o 7 total responses o 3 AP, 2 OAT, 2 LAT Individualized/Personalized Education o 6 total responses o 3 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP Progression determined by Compe tency o 4 total responses o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP Operational Definition of CBE in WPS All Codes Performance based grouping 5, Multi leveled classrooms 4, Multi aged classrooms 3 Single aged classrooms 1, Grouped by literacy 1, Departmentalization 1, Data Track ing/Reporting 3 Individualized Education 2, Student Ownership 5 Time is variable 1, Differentiated Instruction 4, Group education 4 Fluid groupings of kids 1, Teacher Collaboration 1, Student Centered Learning 1, All Teacher Fluid Grouping of kids 1, Goal setting 2 Individualized Education 1, Multi leveled classrooms 2 Teacher Collaboration 1, Performance based groupings 3 Student Ownership 2, Differentiated Instruction 4 Student Centered Learning 1, Multi aged classrooms 1, Group education 1, Stud ent Ownership 1, Data Tracking/Reporting 1, Group Education 4 Differentiated Instruciton 2, Same age 1 OAT Fluid Grouping of kids 1, Goal setting 2 Individualized Education 1, Multi leveled classrooms 2 Teacher Collaboration 1, Performance based

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79 groupi ngs 2 Student Ownership 3, Differentiated Instruction 2 Student Centered Learning 1, Multi aged classrooms 1, Group education 1 LAT Student Ownership 1, Data Tracking/Reporting 1, Group Education 3 Differentiated Instruction 2 Same age 1, Performance based grouping 1 All Principals Performance based grouping 2, Multi leveled classrooms 2, Multi aged classrooms 2 Grouped by literacy 1, Departmentalization 1, Data Tracking/Reporting 2 Individualized Education 1, Student Ownership 1, Time is variable 1 Highest Frequency Code Counts: Performance Based Groupings o 5 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP Student Ownership o 5 total o 3 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP Multiple Leveled Classrooms o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 AP Multiple Aged Classrooms o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 AP Data Tracking/Reporting o 3 t otal o 1 LAT, 2 AP Differentiated Instruction o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 LAT Small Group Education o 4 total o 1 OAT, 3 LAT Processes and Tools for Student Grouping and Academic Progression All Codes Student Grouping : Skill Based (DIBELS) 7, Scantron 6 Empower 3, Age 1 Academic Progression: Empower 3 Proficiency Scales 2 Success Criteria 1, Student data notebooks 3 All Teacher Student Grouping: Skill Based (DIBELS) 4, Scantron 3 Empower 2 Academic Progression : Empower 2 Proficiency Scales 2, Success Criteria 1, Stud ent data notebooks 1 OAT Student Grouping : Skill Need (DIBELS data) 2 Scantron 1, Empower 1 Academic Progression : Completion of Proficiency Scales 1 LAT Student Grouping: Skill Based (DIBELS) 2, Scantron 2 Empower 1 Academic Progression : Empower 2 Proficiency Scales 1, Success Criteria 1, Student data notebooks 1 All Principal Student Grouping : DIBELS 3, Scantron 3, PARCC 2 Empower 1, Age 2 Academic Progression : Empower 1, Student Data Notebooks 2

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80 Highest Frequency Code Counts for Student Group ing: DIBELS o 7 total o 2 OAT, 2 LAT, 3 AP Scantron o 6 total o 1 OAT, 2 LAT, 3 AP Highest Frequency Code Counts for Academic Progression: Empower o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP Student Data Notebooks o 1 LAT, 2 AP Define and Measure Student Competency All Codes Measure : Forma tive Assessments 3, Summative Assessments 3, Mastery 4, Proficiency Scales 1, Data Recording 2, Score 3 1, Student/Teacher Exemplars 1 Define : Proficiency Scales 6 Success Criteria 2 Grade level benchmark 1, Empower Levels 1, Knowledge and Application o f skill 1 All Teachers Measure : Student/Teacher Exemplars 1, Demonstrate multiple x's (Mastery) 3 Formative Assessments 2, Summative Assessments 2, Proficiency Scales 2, Differentiated Assessment 1, Teacher Observation 1, Score 2 1, Define : Success Cr iteria 2, Proficiency Scales 4 Knowledge and Application of skill 1 OAT Measure: Proficiency Scales 2, Differentiated Assessment 1, Teacher observation 1, Score 2 1, Summative Assessments 1 Define: Mastery 2, Proficiency Scales 2 LAT Measure : Stude nt/Teacher Exemplars 1, Demonstrate multiple x's (Mastery) 1 Formative Assessments 2 Summative Assessments 1, Define : Success Criteria 2 Proficiency Scales 2 Knowledge and Application of skill 1 All Principals Measure : Formative Assessments 1, Sum mative Assessments 1, Mastery 1, Proficiency Scales 1, Data Recording 2, Score 3 1 Define: Proficiency Scales 2 Grade level benchmark 1, Empower Levels 1 Highest Frequency Code Counts for Measure: Formative Assessment o 3 total o 2 LAT, 1 AP Summative Ass essment o 3 total o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP Student Mastery o 4 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP Highest Frequency Code Counts for Define: Proficiency Scales o 5 total

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81 o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP Success Criteria o 2 total o 2 LAT Key Features of CBE Instruction All Codes Time is variabl e 1, Individualized Education 2, Student Ownership 5 Goal Setting 3 Performance Based Grouping 5 Differentiated Instruction 4, Small Group Instruction 5 Student Voice/Choice 1, Differentiated Assessment 2, Student centered learning 1 All Teachers Diff erentiated Instruction 4, Data based groupings 2, Individualized Education 1, Student Voice/Choice 1, Differentiated Assessment 2, Goal Setting 1, Student Ownership 2, Student Centered Learning 1, Small Group Instruction 2, Performance Based Groupings 3 O AT Goal Setting 1, Student Ownership 3 Differentiated Assessment 1, Student Centered Learning 1, Small Group Instruction 2 Differentiated Instruction 1 LAT Differentiated Instruction 3, Data based groupings 2 Individualized Education 1, Student Voice/ Choice 1, Differentiated Assessment 1 All Principals Time is variable 1, Individualized Education 1, Student Ownership 2, Goal Setting 2, Performance Based Grouping 2 Differentiated Instruction 1, Small Group Instruction 1 Highest Frequency Code Counts : Small Group Instruction o 5 total o 2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP Student Ownership o 5 total o 2 OAT, 2 AP Performance Based Groupings o 5 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP Differentiated Instruction o 4 total o 1 OAT, 3 LAT Goal Setting o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 AP Emphasis of Application of Knowledge and Development of Important Skills All Codes Differentiated Assessments 5 Real world Learning 2, Project based Learning 3, Success Criteria 3 Student Ownership 3, Student Centered Learning 3 Student Voice/Choice 1, Cross Curriculuar 2 All T eachers Success Criteria 3 Differentiated Assessment 3 Student Ownership 3 Real world Learning 2, Project based learning 1, Student Centered Learning 3 Student Voice/Choice 1, Cross Curricular Instruction 1, OAT Differentiated Assessment 2, Student C entered Learning 3, Student

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82 Voice/Choice 1, Student Ownership 2 Cross curricular instruction 1, Success Criteria 1 LAT Success Criteria 2 Differentiated Assessment 1, Student Ownership 1, Real world Learning 2 Project based learning 1 All Principals Differentiated Assessments 2, Real world Learning 3 Highest Frequency Code Counts: Differentiated Assessments o 5 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP Project Based Learning o 3 total o 1 LAT, 2 AP Student Ownership o 3 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT Success Criteria o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 LAT Student Centered Learning o 3 total o 3 OAT Key Features of CBE Assessment All Codes Formative Assessment 4 Differentiated Assessment 2, Success Criteria 3 Summative Assessments 2, Measuring Competency 5 Academic Progression 1, Individualized Instructi on 1, Data Based Instruction 4 Data Based Groupings 1, Student Ownership 1 All Teachers Data Driven Instruction 4, Formative Assesment 3, Measuring Competency 3 Data Based Groupings 1, Differentiated Assessment 1, Student Ownership 1, Success Criteria 1 Measuring Competency 1 OAT Data Driven Instruction 1, Differentiated Assessment 1, Student Ownership 1, Success Criteria 1, Measuring Competency 1 LAT Data Driven Instruction 3, Formative Assesment 3, Measuring Competency 2 Data Based Groupings 1 A ll Principals Formative Assessment 1, Differentiated Assessment 1, Success Criteria 2, Summative Assessments 2, Measuring Competency 2, Academic Progression 1, Individualized Instruction 1 Highest Frequency Code Counts: Measuring Competency o 5 total o 1 OAT 2 LAT, 2 AP Formative Assessment o 4 total o 3 LAT, 1 AP

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83 Data driven Instruction o 4 total o 1 OAT, 3 LAT Success Criteria o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 AP CBE Assessment for Learning All Codes Data Driven Instruction 8 Student Ownership 3, Data Driven Grouping 6 Formativ e Assessment 3, Differentiated Instruction 2 All Teachers Data Driven Instruction 5 Student Ownership 2, Data Based Grouping 3 Formative Assessment 2, Differentiated Instruction 2 OAT Formative Assessment 1, Data Driven Grouping 2 Differentiated Inst ruction 2, Data Driven Instruction 2, Student Ownership 1 LAT Data Driven Instruction 3 Student Ownership 1, Data Based Grouping 1, Formative Assessment 1 All Principals Formative Assessment 2, Data Driven Groupings 3, Data Driven Instruction 2 CBS Sta ff Support 1 Highest Frequency Code Counts: Data Driven Instruction o 8 total o 2 OAT, 3 LAT, 2 AP Data Driven Groupings o 6 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 3 AP Successes and Barriers of CBE Processes and Tools All Codes Success: Student Ownership 4, Student Centered Le arning 3, Data Driven Grouping 4, Goal Setting 2, Use of Tech 1, Differentiated Instruction 2, Individualized Education 2 Barriers: Time 4 Class Size 3 Data Recording 2, State Policy 4 Traditional Mindset 1, CBS Definition 2, Parent Involvement 2, Dat a Driven Grouping 3 Student Centered Learning 1, Differentiated Instruction 1, Individualized Instruction 2 All Teachers Success: Data Driven Grouping 4 Use of Technology 1, Data Recording 1, Differentiated Instruction 2, Goal Setting 1, Individualized Education 2, Assessing for Competency 1, Student Ownership 1 Barriers : Class Size 3 Time 2, Data Driven Grouping 3, Student Centered Learning 1, Differentiated Instruction 2 Changing Definition 1, Individualized Education 1, State Policy 2 OAT Success : Data Driven Grouping 2 Goal Setting 1, Individualized Education 2 Assessing Competency 1, Differentiated Instruction, Student Ownership 1 Barriers: Class Size 2 Time 1, Individualized Instruction 1, Data Driven Grouping 1, State Policy 2, LAT Suc cess: Data Driven Grouping 2 Use of Technology 1, Data Recording 1, Differentiated Instruction 1

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84 Barriers: Class Size 1, Time 1, Data Driven Grouping 2, Student Centered Learning 1, Differentiated Instruction 2 Changing Definition 1 All Principals Succ ess: Student Ownership 3, Student Centered Learning 3 Data Driven Grouping 1, Goal Setting 1 Barriers: Time 2, Data Recording 2, State Policy 2, Traditional Mindset 1, CBS Definition 1, Parent Involvement 2 Highest Frequency Code Counts for Successes: Student Ownership o 4 total o 1 OAT, 3 AP Data Driven Grouping o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 LAT Student Centered Learning o 3 total o 3 AP Highest Frequency Code Counts for Barriers: Time o 4 total o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP State Policy o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 AP Class Size o 3 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT Data Driven Grouping o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 LAT Successes and Barriers of CBE Instruction All Codes Success: Data Driven Grouping 3 CBS Staff Support 1, Teacher Collaboration 1, Student Ownership 2, Goal Setting 1, Student Centered Learning 4 CBS Tools 3 Assessing Competency 1, Data Driven Instruction 1, Differentiated Assessments 1 Barriers: Time 4 State Policy 1, Viable Curriclum 1, Data Recording 3 Measuring Competency 1, Student Groupings 1, Class Size 2 All Teachers Success: Student Centered L earning 2, Data Driven Grouping 3 Student Ownership 2, Student Centered Learning 2, CBS Tools 3 Assessing Competency 1, Data Driven Instruction 1, Differentiated Assessments 1 Barriers : Measuring Competency 1, Student Groupings 1, Class Size 2 Data Re cording 2 Time 1 OAT Success: Data Driven Grouping 3, Student Ownership 2, Student Centered Learning 2, CBS Tools 2 Differentiated Assessments 1 Barriers: Data Recording 1, Class Size 1 LAT Success: Student Centered Learning 2 CBS Tools 1, Assessing Competency

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85 1, Data Driven Instruction 1 Barriers : Measuring Competency 1, Student Groupings 1, Class Size 1, Data Recording 1, Time 1 All Principals Success: CBS Staff Support 1, Teacher Collaboration 1, Student Ownership 1, Goal Setting 1 Barriers : T ime 3 State Policy 1, Viable Curriclum 1, Data Recording 1 Highest Frequency Code Counts for Successes: Student Centered Learning o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 LAT Data Driven Grouping o 3 total o 3 OAT CBS Tools o 3 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT Class Size o 2 Total o 1 OAT, 1 LAT High est Frequency Code Counts for Barriers: Time o 4 total o 1 LAT, 3 AP Data Tracking/Recording o 3 total o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP Successes and Barriers of CBE Assessment All Codes Success : Assessing for Competency 4 Data Driven grouping 2, Student ownership 1, CBS To ols 3 Differentiated Assessment 1, Data Driven Instruciton 2 Barriers: Class Size 2, Time 5, Differentiated Assessment 4 Data Recording 2, Measuring Competency 1 All Teachers Success : Differentiated Assessment 1, Assessing for Competency 3 CBS Tool s 2, Data Driven Instruction 1, Data Driven Grouping 1, Student Ownership 1 Barriers: Time 4 Class Size 2, Measuring Competency 1, Differentiating Assessment 2, Data Tracking/Recording 1 OAT Success: Assessing for Competency 2 Data Driven grouping 1 Student ownership 1, CBS Tools 1 Barriers: Class Size 2, Time 2, Differentiated Assessment 1, Data Tracking 1 LAT Success: Differentiated Assessment 1, Assessing for Competency 1, CBS Tools 1, Data Driven Instruction 1 Barriers: Time 2 Measuring Comp etency 1, Differentiating Assessment 1 All Principals Success : CBS Tools 1, Data Driven Grouping 1, Data Driven Instruction 1, Assessing for Competency 1

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86 Barriers: Differentiating Assessment 2 Time 1, Data Recording 1 Highest Frequency Code Counts fo r Successes: Assessing for Competency o 4 total o 2 OAT, 2 AP CBS Tools o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 AP Highest Frequency Code Counts for Barriers: Time o 5 total o 2 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP Differentiated Assessment o 4 total o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP Largest Barriers to CBE Implementation All Codes Class size 3, Student Grouping 1 CBS Staff Support 2, State Policy 3, Time 5 All Teachers Time 5 Class Size 2 State Policy 1 OAT Time 2 State Policy 1, Class Size 1 LAT Time 3 Class Size 1 All Principals Class Size 1, State Policy 2, CBS Staff Support 2 Student Grouping 1, Changing Definition 1 Highest Frequency Code Counts: Time o 5 total o 2 OAT, 3 LAT Class Size o 3 total o 1 OAT, 1 LAT, 1 AP State Policy o 3 total o 1 OAT, 2 AP What adjustments can be made to CBS? All Codes Class Size 4, CBS Staff Support 5, CBS Tools 1, Viable Curriculum 2, Time 3 Teacher Collaboration 2, Student Grouping 2, State Policy 1, Data Recording 1 All Teachers Teacher Collaboration 1, Class Size 3 Time 3 CBS Staff Support 3 Time 2, Viable Curriculum 1, Teac her Collaboration 1 OAT Class Size 1, Time 2, CBS Staff Support 2 Viable Curriculum 1, Teacher Collaboration 1 LAT Teacher Collaboration 1, Class Size 2 Time 1, CBS Staff Support 1 All State Policy 1, CBS Staff Support 2 CBS Tools 1, Viab le Curriculum 1, Class

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87 Principals Size 1, Data Recording 1 Code Analysis CBS Staff Support o 5 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT, 2 AP !"#$$%&'() o 4 total o 1 OAT, 2 LAT, 1 AP Time o 3 total o 2 OAT, 1 LAT

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