Decoding Education Acronyms: A Guide to CBL, IEPs, and SEL

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 -- Scott Sterling

Every industry has its buzzwords, and the world of education may just lead the pack, especially when it comes to acronyms. Is your head swimming in an alphabet soup of this year’s trending abbreviations? Let us help! We’ve compiled this guide to three of the most common buzzword acronyms: CBL, IEPs, and SEL. Read on to learn just what each of these is referring to - and impress your colleagues at the next staff meeting!

CBL: Competency-Based Learning

This is an approach that has gained a lot of traction over the past few years. In fact, it has grown enough in popularity that the U.S. Department of Education has written a brief and highlighted some best practices. So what is CBL, and what are some actionable tips for the classroom teacher?

What does a CBL curriculum look like?

Competency-based learning is the idea that instead of students moving along in their educational careers based on how old they are, they should instead progress based on mastery of a set of skills. While that concept is simple (and probably common sense), implementation can be another story entirely.

CBL is most prevalent at the high school level because the students have varying interests or logistical situations in which a CBL approach makes more sense than the traditional system. Credit recovery programs are frequent utilizers of CBL models. A few states have even passed laws regarding CBL that basically say if a student can have an educational experience other than classroom seat time, such as study abroad or work experience, then they should be able to earn credit for those activities.

What’s possible with a CBL approach?

Although there are other ways to implement CBL, availability of technology helps a lot. By definition CBL is personalized learning, and students in a CBL program need to be able to move at their own pace. In a class of thirty, that isn’t always possible unless they are receiving a personalized experience at least partially through online learning.

Another, more forward-thinking, school of thought is to simply abandon the idea that students of the same age should be grouped together. The Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) has experimented with this on a large scale, employing CBL principles to the point where students are grouped by ability rather than age. Students might fall anywhere within a range of three years in one particular class. Currently, there are 173 RISC schools nationwide operating within this framework.

How can CBL work in your classroom?

You don’t need to wait for state legislation or to join a nationwide network to make CBL work for you. All you need to do is follow a few steps:

    • Align skills to your standards, and then arrange those skills in an order in which it makes sense to acquire them. Look for verbs in each standard; those are the skills that need to be mastered by your students.
    • Communicate your ideas with everyone, from the students themselves to their parents and your administration. Don’t try CBL as a secret project.
    • Investigate personalized learning strategies that utilize technology.
    • Brush up on your assessment techniques, both formal and informal, formative and summative. CBL is all about regular assessment; students can’t progress without it.

Looking for online tools to help implement CBL in your classroom? Learn more about effective blended learning solutions with Plato Courseware.

IEPs: Individualized Education Programs

By federal law, every student in need of special education services requires an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. These students are typically identified and evaluated by district personnel, or sometimes by outside consultants. The number of students working under an IEP has increased in the past decade or so as we find out more about learning disabilities and the needs of these students. So, what does it actually mean for a student to be on an IEP?

What does an IEP include?

An IEP takes the form of a long document that is the responsibility of the district to create. It is updated annually in the presence of the student’s parents. By law, an IEP must include:

    • The student’s current levels of performance
    • Annual goals for growth and performance
    • How the student’s progress will be measured in relation to those goals
    • Description of the special services to be provided
    • Schedule of those services
    • Detailed outline of modifications and accommodations to guide teachers
    • Least Restrictive Environment specifications, meaning the least possible amount of time the student works anywhere but in a mainstream classroom
    • Explanation of why the student will be in an environment other than the mainstream
    • Accommodations during state and district assessments
    • For older students, a post-secondary transition plan

What is the purpose of an IEP in daily teaching?

The aspect of every IEP that receives the most attention is the description of special services, accommodations, and modifications. The basic purpose of this section is to tell any teacher with whom the student might work how the student best learns. Prescriptions could be as simple as allowing a student with vision problems to always sit near the board or as complex as a description of the self-contained environment required by an RTI Tier 3 student.

Who has a say in the development of a student’s IEP?

It’s not uncommon for older students to fully participate in their own IEP process, including the annual review. After all, no one is more familiar with their strengths, challenges, or the accommodations they would like to receive in order to be successful.

Although the process can seem bureaucratic at times, the IEP is an effective way to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to a student in need of special services. An IEP helps teachers understand how they can best instruct the student and help parents understand how the school is working to support their student. In doing so, IEPs keep the lines of communication open and ensure that the most effective strategies are being used to help the student achieve academic success.

Want to learn more about how Edmentum’s online solutions can help provide targeted instruction for your students working under an IEP? Check out this success story.

SEL: Social and Emotional Learning

Since the very beginning, school has not been just about academics. Although the cynics might call it “social programming,” the purpose of school is to create productive and successful citizens for society. Social skills have a great effect on that future success. That’s where social and emotional learning (SEL) comes in.

Why include SEL in standard curriculum?

Social awareness is so important that the next generation of standards often calls for skills that aren’t considered academic but are necessary nonetheless. The Common Core State Standards, for example, give a personality trait portrait of students who are college and career ready as an introduction to the standards themselves. To address this aspect of the new standards, more and more schools and districts are incorporating social and emotional learning (SEL) into their standard curriculum. Results indicate that it is well worth it.

According to studies, students who participated in some sort of social and emotional learning (SEL) program in elementary school:

    • Scored 11 percent higher on standardized tests
    • Were 10 percent more likely to graduate high school
    • Were significantly less likely to engage in violence and heavy drinking over the course of their lives
    • Were less likely to experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and social phobias at ages 24 and 27

What does an SEL program look like?

Today’s SEL programs take a more whole-child approach than programs in the past that would focus only on certain negative behaviors (like the D.A.R.E. anti-drug program founded in the 1980s). It’s all about helping a child find self-awareness, manage feelings, develop decision-making skills, and establish behaviors that foster relationships with those around them. The best part is that, although dedicated SEL programs are available and have shown to be quite effective, social awareness can be plugged into any academic curriculum in any subject area. There’s no reason to take up additional, valuable class time.

Here are some hints:

    • Have students reflect as often as possible, through journaling and other methods.
    • Use materials that trumpet diversity and social justice.
    • Have students work in a variety of different groups, rotating students around.
    • Problem solving is not just for math classes.

Looking for more information on incorporating SEL into your classroom? Check out this blog post from Inside the Classroom, Outside the Box!, where Jill Thompson explains how to make the Common Core State Standards adapt to social consciousness without having to completely rewrite the lesson. You can also check out Edmentum’s online early-learning solutions that help to encourage engagement, interaction, and critical thinking for your youngest students.

Edmentum is proud to offer a variety of research-based online solutions for teaching and learning that are at the forefront of K-12 pedagogy. Want to learn more? Check out our white paper on The Next Generation of Digital Learning