Strengthening High School Teaching and Learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System

The Alliance for Excellent Education hosted a Webinar entitled Strengthening High School Teaching and Learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System on January 22, 2013. The Webinar focused on New Hampshire’s competency-based system for determining student progress. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance and former governor of West Virginia, was the moderator for the event and provided a brief history of the competency-based system as well as its importance.

Brian Stack, principal of Sanborn Regional High School, discussed the design and implementation of the competency-based system in the Sanborn Regional School District. Stack shared Sanborn’s vision of becoming a “premier” school in New Hampshire by focusing on three pillars – learning communities, student engagement, and climate and culture. He also emphasized how the pillar of student engagement focuses on measuring learning and mastery of competency. For instance, in order to receive credit for a course, students must be proficient in each course competency, with an opportunity for reassessment. Stack stated that this method separates the academic from the behavior part of the grade and promotes intervention before the student fails.

Paul Leather, deputy commissioner at the New Hampshire Department of Education, provided details of the process New Hampshire underwent to develop a competency-based system, as well as the assessments and accountability system being implemented in the state. He emphasized that it is a priority of New Hampshire to implement assessments that are aligned with competency learning. Leather also stated that all schools in the state are expected to have competency in place at the high school level and an accountability system is being developed for grades K-8.

Erica Stofanak, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment coach for Rochester School District, discussed the design and implementation of the competency-based system in the Rochester School District. Stofanak highlighted some of the alternative pathway tiered interventions for students in Rochester. For instance, the summer school program that is in place allows teachers to hone in just on the competencies that students were taught but didn’t master during the school year. She also described the local design plan that was implemented to apply the competency based model in Rochester.

Each panelist also shared their lessons learned from the implementation process of the competency-based system. Stack assured participants that you will never be completely ready and you need to be ready to just jump in with the support of your team. Stofanak shared that she would have wanted to supply teachers with more strategies for the formative check-ins they have with students. Leather reflected that he would have provided more professional development and support for teachers and leaders at all levels.

The full Webinar is available here.

Kiana Abram is a research assistant at the American Institutes for Research.

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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