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Kentucky hosts third national summit on micro-credentials; plans for Rural Education Association

By Ron Daley
Special to KyForward

Educators from 25 states across the nation representing classroom instructors to state and national organizations attended the third Micro-Credential Summit June 18-19 in Louisville sponsored by the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), a consortium of 23 school districts in eastern Kentucky. The first two summits were held in Hazard, KY and the fourth is being planned for 2020.

Also, during the summit 50 educators gathered to advance the creation of the Kentucky Rural Education Association and become an affiliate of the National Rural Education Association.

Micro-credentials recognize educators for the competencies skills they develop by completing digital learning opportunities based on student and teacher need.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis during table discussion at the summit. (Left to right) Bernadette Carpenter, Summit organizer Robert Brown, Wayne Lewis, Dr. Andrew Place of EKU, and Lawrence county School Superintendent Dr. Robbie Fletcher (Photo provided)

Partly due to limited professional development funds, micro-credentials have been a professional learning solution in rural eastern Kentucky. High-quality educator training is easily accessible in rural as well as urban areas through micro-credentials by providing an individualized form of professional learning. Teachers work to prove mastery at their own pace of identified competencies through examples of student work, videos, and other artifacts.

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Wayne Lewis praised the use of competency-based learning to the crowd of over 150 saying “The micro-credentials will enable educators to focus on areas of need in their districts and in their own personalized learning.”

While micro-credentials have been used in other fields such as business and in health care, it is relatively new in K-12 education.   Educators identify a discrete skill and complete a corresponding micro-credential. Assessors review the submitted evidence to determine if the educator has demonstrated competency in that skill.  Each micro-credential is grounded in sound research that illustrates how that competency supports student learning.  Educators select micro-credentials from the catalog aligned to personal goals, student needs, or school-wide instructional priorities.

Sue Beers, the executive director of MISIC a nonprofit consortium of over 100 school districts in Iowa, shared how they are using micro-credentials as a pathway to improved teaching. “The power of micro-credentials lies primarily in its use as a collaborative tool for learning.  The real learning comes from the discussion and reflection around the skill and a teacher’s increasing master of that skill.”

Texan educator Dr. Burak Yilmaz, the district project director for Race to the Top described micro-credentials as “the new currency for career advancement and validating professional learning.”  He added that the summit will be helpful in their plans “to create professional learning pathways for every educator.”

Odelia Younge of Digital Promise presented on national research which supports the value of educator micro-credentials. Noting she had attended the first KVEC Micro-Credentials Summit in Hazard, Younge stated, “To see how this convening has grown is a testament to the future of micro-credentials. We are asking the right questions and collectively and collaboratively we will continue to shed light on how micro-credentials can help accelerate changes in professional learning that will positively impact students.” Digital Promise is an independent nonprofit with a mission to spur innovation in education and improve the opportunity to learn, for all learners, through technology and research.

Reporter Ron Daley interviewing Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence Executive Director Bridgette Ramsey (Photo provided)

KVEC and Kentucky is on the forefront of the micro-credential movement. Last year, Breathitt County teachers earned 22 micro-credentials. Now, with a larger learning community and stronger plan that includes micro-credentials in their professional learning system, more than half of the staff is currently working toward additional micro-credentials during the 2018–19 school year. By earning these micro-credentials, each educator hopes to be better able to address regional education challenges as an informed and united group.

Allen Elementary in rural Floyd County, Kentucky, has embedded micro-credentials within a system of personalized learning. After analyzing all relevant data, including attendance, behavior, student participation data, student perception, and achievement, the staff identified the need to actively engage students in learning through high-yield engagement strategies as the problem of practice.

In developing Individual Theories of Action, the entire staff collectively decided to complete a micro-credential aligned to increasing student engagement. Now, teachers and school leaders are working together to develop and demonstrate their skills and competencies in student engagement. During their professional learning communities, the teachers check in with each other on their progress, provide feedback on submissions, support each other in selecting artifacts, and provide technology assistance.

The summit participants discussed the need to form a national group supporting educator micro-credentials. Robert Brown, the Professional Learning Lead for Micro-credential Policy for KVEC who organized the summit stated, “We had an invigorating summit and we look forward to our planning for Iowa in 2020.”

Owen County School District Superintendent Robert Stafford led a discussion after the first day of the summit on the possibility of forming The KY Rural Education Association in order to give a “greater voice” for rural education to legislators and policymakers.

National Rural Education Association Director Allan Pratt of Chattanooga, Tennessee invited the group to join the other 42 rural state affiliates.  “You need a unified rural voice which will help you statewide and nationally.  Too often your great work is overlooked.”

The group is planning a convening at the National Rural Association annual meeting set for October 24-26, 2020 in Louisville.

The date and location of the fourth national micro-credentials summit will be announced later.

Ron Daley is the strategic partner lead for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), a consortium of 22 school districts.

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