These innovations promise major change for California schools


In summary

Our outdated education system defines student achievement too narrowly and should evolve towards a competency-based approach to learning.

By Roman Stearns, special for CalMatters

Roman Stearns is the Founder and Executive Director of Scaling Student Success, a California partnership of educators, policy makers, researchers and others.

We have a problem in the California schools. Our students are disengaged, desperately seeking a greater sense of belonging, and in need of more voice and choice in their education.

They thirst and deserve a greater sense of action so that they can direct their own learning in a way that aligns with their interests, their cultural and racial identities and their dreams for the future.

Our outdated education system defines student achievement and achievement too narrowly, limiting student engagement and also hurting their prospects for success in adulthood.

The good news is that several recent articles point to a movement underway to better meet the needs of young people, families and communities.

In an October 12 article in EdWeek, “Graduation must depend on learning, not time: the late case of competency-based educationJerry Almendarez, Santa Ana Unified School District superintendent, joined other superintendents nationwide in asking the questions, “What if we overturn the current model of public education and make the norm? learning the constant and time the variable? What if the goal of education was for all children to be truly “ready for life” no matter what the obstacles?

Devin Vodicka, former superintendent of the Vista Unified School District and current executive director of the Learner-Centered Collaborative, recently published an article, “Let’s reinvent college admissions to create fair, learner-centered pathways. “He argues that” the decline in college enrollment, the obvious inequalities in the way standardized testing creates an uneven playing field, and the archaic systems of siege time and scoring are obvious reasons to reconsider our approach at the level. systems ”.

In early December, Carolyn Jones and John Festerwald of EdSource reported “Why some California school districts are changing the way students get grades: mastery-based learning seen as a way to improve equity. “They explain that large school districts like San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento” are phasing out grades below a C for high school students. If a student fails a test or does not complete their homework, they may retake the test and have more time to hand in. The idea is to encourage students to learn the course material and not be derailed by a bad grade.

Nidya Baez, deputy principal of Fremont High in Oakland, added: “Our hope is that students begin to see school as a place of learning, where they can take risks and learn from their mistakes, instead of a place of compliance.

Meanwhile, dozens of California school districts are pledging to “fairness rating“(Feldman, 2019) or”Anti-racist classification(Safir & Dugan, Street Data, 2021) – a scoring strategy based on a student’s demonstration of competence rather than such things as behavior, participation and homework completion. The shift to “fairness scoring” can be a gateway to a competency-based approach to learning.

These signs of change in California are good news.

The majority of states across the country have been heading in this direction for years, as evidenced by a map from the Aurora Institute, which directs CompetencyWorks, a knowledge acquisition center and an online resource dedicated to competency-based education.

Aurora Institute

This summer, Develop student success, a California partnership dedicated to educating the whole child, will launch the “Reimagining CA Schools Innovation Pilot”. It will model for the state an education system designed to be equitable, student-centered and skills-based.

The participating school districts have all created a “Graduate Profile” – a succinct page that captures the skills, competencies and dispositions that their community values ​​as essential to student success. With the support of a dozen practice partners, these districts are moving their graduate profiles “from poster to practice” in an effort to ensure that each student develops and demonstrates the outcomes outlined in their local graduate profile.

To enable these changes more broadly, we need state leaders – including the Department of Education and State Council, the Legislature and Governor, and the University of California and California State University – support these innovations by constructively engaging in dialogue, removing barriers and encouraging advancement.

Let’s create a shared vision and move forward together to more equitably and holistically prepare our young people for future success.


Roman Stearns also wrote on how California should define student success in 2020.


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