Category Archives: Learning Progress Management

Keeping track of what students know and can do, evidence of that learning, and where they are in their learning progression (what are they finishing now and what comes next)

We Don’t Want Just Any PD, and Badges Are More Than Patches

We’re working on a project to get more professional development to more teachers as they need it. Two pieces that we mention frequently are reusable learning objects (including online modules) and digital badges. We do that, in part, because they may be the most interesting aspects, especially when trying to spark other educator’s interest and entice them to join us in the effort.

The Distributed PD Project is so much more than just those two components. But if you’d mostly been involved in brief conversations about the project, you might not think so. So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when colleagues say to me, “We found lots of resources that have badges. Why don’t we just use those?” Or, “Why don’t we just suProfessional Learningbscribe to this service? There are lots of PD modules, and it has badges.”

Now, I know they are well intentioned (these are good people, I like working with), and just trying to help (why reinvent the wheel, right?).

But the suggestions totally miss the point of what we’re trying to achieve with the project.

My first question to them probably should have been, “What are your criteria for selecting these resources?” In all fairness, although familiar with the type of resources, I haven’t spent real time looking at these specific ones, and I haven’t asked my colleagues this question. But I suspect that their answer would be, “They have lots of PD resources that our teachers would like or find useful, and they have badges.” And I’m sure there would be at least some resources there helpful to us and our work. 

But our goal is not simply to provide a buffet of PD, nor is it to simply have a badge at the end

In fact there are three key ways that these resource suggestions misunderstand our work. There are three key, distinguishing criteria we should apply to any resources or services we select to support this project.

1) We don’t want just any PD. We want targeted training aimed at supporting teachers as they work to implement our strategic initiatives (Customized Learning, Tech for Learning, etc.). We’re building out that professional learning curriculum so that we can be transparent about what we would like teachers to know and be able to do. 

10 Tech Integration Professional Curriculum BucketsSo one criterion we’d want is for a high level of alignment between the training modules and the knowledge and skills needed for our initiatives. A question I could ask about the suggested products is, “How does the list of available modules match our professional learning curriculum?” Keep in mind that a subscription service might not meet that criterion, but still have tons of high quality modules, just not the ones that we really need. And that is ok. We are quite happy to build out our own modules and playlists of available reusable learning objects. But those will be targeted directly to our professional learning curriculum.

2) We aren’t looking for badges that show that an educator participated in a training. We’re looking for badges that indicate that the educator is proficient with the professional learning target. If the training module were for something like standards-based grading, for example, we would want the teacher to earn the badge when she demonstrates that she is skilled at analyzing student work for how it demonstrated proficiency, is skilled at providing standards-based feedback to students, and is skilled at rating a student’s level of proficiency in that learning target based on evidence from the student’s work. We are not looking for the badge to be awarded when the educator participated in the training.

So a second criterion we’d want is for badges to be awarded only when a teacher can show that she is skilled at or understands a particular professional learning target. A question I could ask about the suggested products is, “Are badges awarded for demonstrated proficiency?” This is why, in some ways, the professional learning curriculum and having a cohort of qualified certifiers to examine the teacher’s evidence and determine when she has earned a badge may be more important than finding good training materials.

3) We don’t want badges just so we have an icon to show that we did something. The image or patch of the earned badge OpenBadgesmay be the least important aspect. As I mentioned in notes from a forum on digital badges, badging is about credentialling. It’s about recognition, knowing something about someone in a verified way (evidence-based way), and represents an individual’s skills and achievements. Badges travel with the individual (do not reside solely within a single platform or system) and can come from a variety of sources – a badge needs transportability and interoperability. As such, badges need a standard. Such a standard supports their use by the folks who issue them, the folks who earn them, and the folks who are interested in which badges you have.

So a third criterion is that the badges meet the badging standard. provides that standardA question I could ask about the suggested products is, “Is the badging OpenBadges compliant?

So, what we’re looking for are professional learning resources that meet some specific criteria: 

  • They are highly aligned with our professional curriculum and strategic initiatives
  • They offer acknowledgement only upon demonstrated proficiency
  • They are OpenBadges compliant (if they use badges)


Notes from Open Badge Forum

One aspect of our Distributed PD Project is credentialing: thinking about how we might acknowledge what teachers know and can do and giving them “credit” for the new things they are learning. One way we’re looking to do this is through digital badges.

On April 30, 2014, I attended Open Badges: Re-imagining Credentials for the Digital Age at the University of Southern Maine. The session featured Erin Knight, the Executive Director of the Badge Alliance.

Below are my notes from that session (Apologies if they seem cryptic.  I just copied them here and didn’t enhance or clarify them much…).


  • It’s about recognition
  • Knowing something about someone in a verified way (evidence-based way)
  • Represents skills and achievements
  • One can unlock the way to the next one
  • Also about the information that is now available on the “back” of the badge
  • Also design (social) badges to drive the behaviors we desire


  • Are the commercial providers (Blackboald, moodel, etc.) building their badges in such a way that folks can use them in other platforms/ecosystems?
    • Some yes, others no.
  • Why badges?
    • Capture a complete learning path
    • Signal that learning to key stakeholders
    • Build and communicate reputation and identity (data about learning for the learner)
    • Build maps of learning pathways and opportunities for more learning
    • Foster an ecosystem where learning is connected across contexts, across lifetimes
  • How badges?
    • What does it mean to work at an ecosystem level (not just our org but learners can earn badges across many organizations and experiences)****
    • Software – e.g. open badges backpack
    • Open badges standard – for info, but also for structure so the info is accessible and examinable
    • Validation –
      • the badge has a lot of info;
      • next level is “Endorsements” which is outside people who review the standards and work and then endorse the badge;
      • Usage – how is it being used in the market (if 10 poeple got the badge and the employers like those employees, that says something about the badges)
  • Currency – you need both the assurance of value and the acceptance by society



  • Think of the large badges as “Paths” (code school or P2PU). Or would this be the Phases of Implementation?
  • DePaul U is accepting badges in the application process
  • This is an evidence based credentialling system
  • Can be used in a “granular” and “stackable” way
  • Works through working groups
  • Defining the skills and the outcomes of those schools
  • Levels of badges: participation, skill, achievement/certification
  • Making badges for what’s meaningful for you, not just every badge you can
  • Backpack Federation allows badges to be stored many different places but still findable
  • The learner owns the badges (eg, they can make choose which badges they would like to keep and which they would like to get rid of)


  • What does the ecosystem idea tell us about how we define our system? The ecosystem ideas means that teachers should be able to earn their badges anywhere… Does that mean that we should define our medium and large badge requirements generically and point to our own badges that might fulfil that requirement???


Reimagining credentials for a transformed culture of learning.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM
215 Abromson Center, USM Portland Campus
CTEL Speaker Series

Guest Speaker: Erin Knight, Executive Director, Badge Alliance
Lives in Portland, Colby grad

Open Badges are a new way to think about recognizing and connecting learning and skill development. Digital, information-based, and stackable badges are becoming a new currency for skills, identity, and jobs. In this presentation, Erin Knight, Executive Director of Badge Alliance, will explore the state of the work so far, with examples of where badging is being successfully used across the ecosystem, as well as opportunities for higher education institutions to leverage badging within their own systems for their own benefit.

Starting to Design a Distributed PD System

A while back, I described our need for a distributed system of professional development (as part of our comprehensive plan to support professional learning, including: workshops and trainings; coaching and formative feedback; educator lesson invention and tryouts; and opportunities for educators to get together to share successes and trouble shoot challenges).

So, we've put together a work group to start designing. We will focus first on building a system that will support educators learning to better integrate iPads into teaching and learning. Frankly, we could use the same kind of distributed PD system for our Customized Learning work, as well, but we'll work out the bugs on our iPad work first.

We have 1to1 iPads in K-2 and 7-12, and various clusters of iPads in between. Our work group has K-12 representation. But we know others are interested in this work and we often partner with folks from other districts, and several are participating in the workgroup. We love it when others come to play with us!

Distributed PD Website

And, if you're interested, there is an opportunity for you to lurk, or even participate.

We have created a Distributed PD website to help organize our work. We have pages for each key component of the design work and the Updates & Activities is our blog where we'll regularly publish (yes) activities and updates.

So if you want to lurk, check back at the site periodically to see what we've been up to (and I'll occasionally cross post or post updates to this blog, too).

If you want to participate, you can leverage the comments section of any of our posts or pages.

And if you're REALLY interested in rolling up your selves and being part of the work group, shoot me an email.


Moving Towards Standards-Based Grading

One aspect of transitioning to Customized Learning is finding systems for tracking and monitoring student learning, as well as, ways to report learning progress, especially to parents. One piece of this is some sort of standards-based grading system.

But moving too quickly to a new system of grading (and report cards) can be problematic. For example, it takes time for parents to be ready for iconic changes like approaches to grading. They might need to see other Customized Learning changes work first (like student pacing, multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery, etc.) before they believe that a new grading system is needed. In fact, we put making structural changes to school one of the last steps of transitioning to Customized Learning.

(Note: a colleague in another district believes that moving early to a new grading system forces important community dialog about the changes toward customizing learning. I think there is much to learn about doing school change work well by following the multiple approaches and how they evolve over time. I may write about how we are approaching school change, but that doesn't mean I believe it is the only effective way to do the work.)

Saving large scale change in grading practices until late in the Customized Learning implementation process that doesn't mean in the meantime teachers shouldn't find ways to move toward standards-based grading practices. There are a couple key intermediate steps that can be pursued:

  • Trying standards-based grading-like practices within the traditional system
  • Looking for models and examples of how others are doing standards-based grading practices
  • Getting feedback from the students on how it is going (to let you know when you are on track, or what course corrections need to be made)

I recently came across Frank Noschese's blog, Action-Reaction. Clearly, he is not only working on standards-based grading in his classroom (among other things), but he is sharing what he is learning via his blog. He may not know it, but he is addressing the three intermediate steps above:


Capacity Matrices: Examples & Overview

As Quality Learning Australia points out:

A Capacity Matrix is a tool to describe, document and monitor our learning. It allows us to clearly identify what is it we wish to learn, derived from the curriculum and student interests, and then track learning over time. It can be very effectively used with the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle and supported with a portfolio that provides evidence of our learning. Capacity Matrices are also used for self-assessment as well as peer assessment.

In Auburn, we are starting to use Capacity Matrices in this way. Our teachers are wondering where they can see examples and where they can learn more. Below are a handful of resources to help address that need.

General Information about and Examples of Capacity Matrices:

The Curriculum and Customized Learning Series

When you start changing how you organize school for performance-based learning and recognizing that people learn in different ways and in different time frames, you quickly realize that the center of school shifts from courses to the curriculum and where students are within the curriculum.

How you organize the curriculum and then make it transparent to students becomes critically important.

Here is the whole recent series of posts related to curriculum organization and learning progress management within customized learning:


Keeping Track of Student Learning in Customized Learning – Part 2

In the previous post, I discussed how keeping track of student mastery of learning targets is both a critical and a non-trivial component of personalized, standards-based, competency-based education, such as within Customized Learning schools.

Online systems can make the task much easier to implement. Already, there are a growing number of options for schools, including PowerSchool, Jump Rope, Project Foundry, and Educate (I have used the last two).

But not all of the available options do the same thing, nor do it the same way. Some simply make it easier to connect standards to courses, some are standards-based grading systems, and some are true learning progress management systems, a frequently updated individual student data system that tracks student progress and attainment of learning standards (not courses), help students select or propose learning activities as they progress through a learning pathway, and help communicate individual student progress to teachers, students, and parents.

So, what do you look for in a learning progress management system?

At it's most basic, a good learning progress management system would do several things:

  • It would maintain a database of the curriculum (standards-based measurement topics and the progression of learning targets).
  • It would contain assessment information for each level of mastery of each measurement topic and learning target (think rubrics).
  • It would maintain a database of each student's level of mastery for each measurement topic and learning target.
  • The learning progress management system would be used to set goals, and create and monitor each student's Individualized Learning Plan, or Pathways (a personalized sequence of instructional content and skill development designed to enable the student to achieve his or her individual learning goals), and Individualized Graduation Plan (to ensure he or she can “graduate on time”).
  • It would facilitate the creation of individualized, data-driven transcripts and progress reports.
  • Teachers, students, and parents could access the learning progress management system readily to monitor where the student is in his or her learning progression 24/7.

A well-designed learning progress management system would also utilize a database of educational resources (including links to digital content and references to common resources, such as texts) and learning activities correlating to each learning target. These resources and activities allow students multiple pathways to demonstrating mastery of the learning target and would facilitate teachers and students selecting activities that appeal to their learning styles and interests, thus motivating students and deepening individual student learning. Further, the system would allow for the uploading of artifacts and evidence of learning correlated to specific learning targets or steps on a learning progression. (These would be the “proof” of mastery for each student.)

A superior learning progress management system would “intelligently” provide students suggestions on what activities he or she might try next, matching both the next learning target in their progression and their learning preferences. Imagine, as a student completes a measurement topic, getting a recommendation from the system of an activity for the next learning target, which is an approach the system thinks the student will like. (Think Amazon book recommendations, but for learning activities.)

Maine Cohort for Customized Learning districts are partnering with Scott Bacon of 3Shapes to create and develop such a learning progress management system: Educate. Through that partnership (including piloting the system in some Cohort districts), Educate already has many of the features described above. Further, Scott Bacon solicits feedback from our schools to keep Educate under continuous development, both to better implement existing features, as well as to add new features we would find helpful. Many of the Maine schools using it report that Educate seems especially well suited for Customized Learning, our version of personalized, performance-based learning.


Keeping Track of Student Learning in Customized Learning – Part 1

One of the reasons you put so much care into how you organize and articulate the student curriculum in Customized Learning, is because instead of tracking which courses a student has taken, schools track which learning targets and measurement topics students have mastered. The challenge, of course, with tracking courses, instead of mastery of content, is that the same curriculum may or may not be addressed in any two courses with the same name. Further, there is no guarantee that any two students in the same course (perhaps even the same section) have learned the same material. At best, tracking courses tracks what teachers “cover,” not what students learn.

But tracking courses taken and passed is much simpler than tracking student learning! Tracking what all your students have learned (and evidence of that mastery!) for all those learning targets is no trivial endeavor! With students working at different paces and awarding students “credit” based on what they demonstrate they know and can do (rather than by seat time or courses they have completed), educators need an efficient way to monitor and record student progress.

Schools that have been focused on personalized, standards-based, competency-based learning for a decade or longer started with paper-based systems of keeping track of student learning.

The Chugach School District in Alaska, won the Baldridge Award for their continuous improvement and Total Quality Management approach to improving learning in their district. They accomplished this by becoming a standards-based, rather than course-based system. At one point, they used (among other paper-based tools) a Student Assessment Binder (SAB), a tool the student and teacher used to monitor progress, store past assessments, and keep sample work. These were maintained on a weekly basis and were never out of the student's sight. I remember seeing pictures of students carrying around a 5″ binder as their evidence of learning!

The Minnesota New Country School is a public charter school where students earn credit by designing and implementing (with teacher support and guidance) standards-based projects. MNCS was recognized by the US Department of Education in 2006 for their work with parents and the community, and success with students who, in other contexts, tend to fall through the cracks. A 2003 profile of the school included links to some of the forms they used at the time (sorry, some of the links are no longer active), and a video of the work at the school included glimpses of those project proposal and learning tracking forms.

But online tools have made tracking student learning much easier. (I cannot imagine doing this work without a computer-based management system!!) The Chugach schools changed to an online system in 2002. The Minnesota New Country School now uses Project Foundry.

Part 2 of this post will focus what kinds of functions and features educators should look for in a learning progress management system.


Is the Common Core a Good Thing?

Bill Ivey at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School in western Massachusetts started a conversation on AMLE’s MiddleTalk Listserve about the Common Core:

I suddenly realize, Common Core would be pulling the country away from the direction I would love to see education take of more fully individualizing and personalizing each kid’s own path of learning. Maybe they could be used in such a model, and more power to them if they can. I somehow doubt it.

The conversation spurred a bunch of great responses (including Jill Spencer’s post on the Bright Futures blog). Below is what I submitted about Maine’s Customized Learning work and how it may fit with the Common Core:

Maine is moving in the direction of customized learning. I think this would go by a lot of different names around the country: standards-based instruction; performance-based instruction; individualized instruction. And there are lots of models: RISC (Reinventing Schools Coalition); Integrative Curriculum (see here or here); the Foxfire Approach; student designed projects ala Minnesota New Country School and Projects4ME; etc.

At the core are the two key principles that people learn in different timeframes and in different ways.

Maine has a grass roots effort: The Maine Cohort for Customized Learning. There isn’t much online about them yet, but they are currently 14 or so districts working together to implement customized learning. The Cohort’s roots are the RISC model, and Bea McGarvey’s work around Mass Customized Learning. Also, Commissioner Bowen has just recently announced his strategic plan for the ME DOE, Education Evolving, which essentially provides all the policy support for a standards based (NOT Carnegie unit based!) diploma and for performance-based customized learning.

AND, Maine has signed on to the Common Core.

How does this all fit?

The Cohort districts are taking the Maine Learning Results (our learning standards, which by next year will include the Common Core), and are dissecting them and reformulating them into a collection of user-friendly (well, relatively speaking), performance-based learning-friendly list of measurement topics. We’re using Marzano’s framework, and each measurement topic includes a leveled description describing what is necessary for a Level 1 or 2 (essentially lower level Blooms attainment) and for a Level 3 or 4 (essentially an upper level Blooms attainment). The Cohort is sharing these with any district the wants to start exploring or using them.

This has been quite a task. Anyone who has worked at true standards-based learning (not just standards-referenced, but where you are looking for artifacts and evidence of student mastery of the standard) knows that many sets of state’s standards are not really designed to be used this way. Some standards you would need a 3-year portfolio of work to demonstrate, or aren’t clear, or are linked to a specific task or assessment strategy (write a report about X, etc.). Our teachers have had to strip out all the assessment info in the standard, so it is just the content topic (in some cases, once the assessment information is gone, there is little left to infer what the content topic was!).

So this all boils down to the fact that Maine will have a viable curriculum, based on the Common Core, that will lend itself to an individualized, customized, standards-based, performance-based approach.

One of the follow up questions that comes from this work (trying to be more standards-based) is how will we monitor student progress and know where they are in mastering their learning topics?

Some districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning are using Educate, a progress management system in development by some of the RISC folks. It is in the early days of development, but feedback from our districts is being used to shape the development, and I hear from colleagues using it that each new release is better and better.

I’ve been using Project Foundry for more than 4 or 5 years, including for Projects4ME (Projects4ME is Maine’s virtual, project-based program or at-risk youth). They earn credit by designing and doing standards-based projects. Although Project Foundry was designed for programs like ours and the one’s that ours is based on, it is being used mostly now by schools looking at standards-based activities, not just student designed projects. Project Foundry doesn’t only allow project proposals and time logging, but the uploading of artifacts and evidence of learning, assessment against correlated learning targets, and individualized, data-based learning plans, transcripts! and progress reports.

Of course, the next step is not just learning progress management, but also utilizing a database of learning activities correlating to the measurement topics but appealing to different learning styles. Imagine as a student completes a measurement topic, getting a recommendation from the system of an activity for the next measurement topic which is an approach the system thinks the student will like. Think Amazon book recommendations, but for learning activities…

So, depending on how much flexibility you believe you have (or are willing to take regardless!), it isn’t so much the Common Core, as it is what you decide to do with them…