Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD), a member of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, is a rural district in central California that is widely recognized as a national leader in competency-based education. LUSD was recently named one of the top 30 districts worth visiting nationwide. In recent years the district has seen an increase in the graduation rate from 73 percent to 92 percent, and an increase in graduates going to a four-year university from 21 percent to 42 percent. LUSD has achieved this success alongside a district-wide shift to a performance-based system.
Superintendent Tom Rooney has been a champion of this change. As he shared recently with the League’s competency-based education working group, he and his team have transformed LUSD by engaging the community, introducing a personalized learning structure, and using technology to empower learners and their families.
Before LUSD embarked on its journey of transformation, the district implemented an open communication plan to involve the local community in the discussion. In 2007, they held a “Power in the Community Forum” and sought input on the direction of the education system. From this meeting, they developed their mission statement, “Empowering and Motivating for Today and Tomorrow.”
With a mission in place, LUSD began to use community meetings and open dialogue to educate leaders and parents on what the 21st century will require from students and graduates.
The district made (and continues to make) district-level changes to curriculum through site-level visits to schools, community forums, and learning facilitator guidance. Once the content was defined, they determined the assessments that aligned with the content. When explaining their performance-based academic structure, Rooney says, “It is not about when you learn it, but it is about mastery.”
These intentional efforts to involve the community have engaged, informed, and motivated families to support the shift towards a performance-based system that engages learners.
The district encourages students to set (and actively pursue) their own goals, and each student is given customized schedules of when and where learning happens. Students are not placed in grade levels, but rather in content levels based on their demonstration of competency.
LUSD builds upon their learner-centered structure with a competency-based education framework and is changing the way personalized learning is assessed. In order to graduate from high school, LUSD students must demonstrate competency in academics and in lifelong learning standards. Additionally, all of Lindsay’s students still have to take statewide exams that correspond with their actual grade level. For instance, a student who is at a “content level five” may also take a third grade state exam. The alignment of LUSD’s framework and state assessments has allowed LUSD’s system to be compared with traditional systems and to be responsive to local education requirements.
LUSD has used technology to make sure everyone is connected, enabling students to be the drivers of their own learning. To integrate technology into all of their learners’ lives they developed a community Wifi network that has connected 90 percent of parents and learners, at no cost, allowing students to leverage digital tools to take assessments, find resources, and engage in learning activities outside of the classroom. LUSD also created an “Empower Parent Portal” containing resources on the proposed performance-based system, engaging parents as well as students.
LUSD demonstrates that transformation can happen in a traditional public school system. The district has worked with groups such as Digital Promise to make innovative changes. Though the district has achieved results and success, they know they have not discovered the “one-size-fits-all” solution. LUSD district leaders say each community should create a system that will most effectively meet the needs of their learners. Rooney’s recommendation to other districts looking to transform their schools is to, “Make it your community’s vision for the future of learning.”
To learn more about what Lindsay Unified has done to meet the needs of all its learners, read the district’s new book Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts to Personalized Learning or view the League’s competency-based education working group webinar here.