Ranum Middle School
2015-2016 Model

An Emerging Compentency-Based Model

After years of changing demographics, falling student achievement, and declining enrollment, Adams County School District 50 began its "moral imperative" to do better for its students. Beginning in 2008, the district began its journey toward competency-based education. In this model, students progress through learning targets instead of grade levels. The competency-based model only began to take hold at Ranum Middle School in 2012 upon the arrival of Principal Shannon Willy. Before that, there was retrenchment to a more traditional model that didn't yield results for students.

Student Population Free reduced lunch
Special Ed.
Staff / Student ratio
772 89 unavailable unavailable 1/17

School Contact Info

Ranum Middle School
2401 West 80th Avenue
Denver, CO 80221-3801
Grades: 6-8
(303) 428-9577
Principal: Shannon Willy
District Contact: Sandra Steiner


Only 20% of students are currently on grade level for reading and math. Less than 10% of students are at expected levels on high-stakes tests. The staff at Ranum see a tremendous urgency to improve outcomes for students.


Early Changes

In the beginning, it was difficult for educators to think of a curriculum based on student learning needs. In the past, each teacher had a prescribed set of standards for each subject at each grade level. It didn’t matter whether or not a student mastered the content; teachers were expected to keep moving forward. Now the district was “guaranteeing” its curriculum in 10 separate areas: mathematics, literacy, science, social studies, technology, visual arts, performing arts, physical education, world languages, and personal/social. This means that when a student completes a performance level, it is “guaranteed” the student has met the standards for that level.

Continuing Adjustment

Teachers began adjusting their curriculum to meet student learning needs. They worked together with Marzano Research to create their own “Learner-centered, Competency Based System” known as CBS. Learning became highly individualized, which brought a new challenge. In collaboration with Marzano Research and the Center for Transforming Learning and Teaching, lead teachers worked arduously to arrange the multitude of learning targets into progressions of learning. These were bundled into proficiency scales. This effort has greatly reduced the burden of recording and reporting. Yet it has also brought forth new challenges of aligning district curricular resources with the proficiency scales.

Continuous Improvement

Although they had made tremendous progress, Ranum Middle School educators were far from satisfied as they moved into the 2014-15 school year. They knew they needed to break down traditional grade-level barriers and allow students to shift to new groups as they progressed. They also knew they needed to address their own professional learning needs. In order to find the time for teachers to plan, collaborate, and learn, Ranum Middle School began working with TimeWise Schools to create a school design that allowed job-embedded professional learning. This effort was made possible through a larger Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation effort called Innovative Professional Development (iPD). Teachers now engage in about 18 full days of PD during the school year.


Since the changes implemented at Ranum happened in the fall of 2015, it is too early to look to the usual measures for success. However, in the day-to-day work with students, teachers and administrative staff are seeing significant change toward more effective, targeted instruction, which bodes well.

Key Policy Considerations

With competency-based learning at Ranum, students may be in the 7th grade but working on 6th-grade learning targets in a specific area. There is an ongoing challenge in getting recognition for the gains that students are making even though the raw scores are below the state average. However, it is helpful that Colorado recognizes growth three times more than status on standardized tests.

The federal approach to working with students with disabilities provides significant flexibility in the resources that can be used to support students. That flexibility fits well with the competency-based approach at Ranum. In contrast, English language development (ELD) requirements are based on the assumption of a more traditional educational model and are, therefore, more challenging for the staff at Ranum to meet for their ELL students.

Key Strategies


  • Create a competency-based education system known as CBS
  • Establish learning targets for each of 10 curricular areas
  • Create performance levels with flexibility for students to advance any time
  • Eliminate traditional grade progressions within grade-level model


  • Incorporate flexibility within teams, allowing shifting of students in response to student needs and performance levels
  • Create large blocks of time for embedded teacher learning time
  • Improve school’s master schedule to allow for personalized learning delivery
  • Create culture of continuous improvement
  • Provide quality curriculum for personal social skills and college/career planning for all students

Curriculum and Instruction

Students take their classes with others students in their grade but are grouped by performance level, ranging from beginning 3rd grade to end of 9th grade. Students tend to progress as a class but students who make faster progress move to a more advanced class. As more online resources are mapped to specific learning progressions, Ranum intends to move more and more to a personalized learning approach.

Creating a Foundation

Teaching methods are in transition at Ranum. Until very recently, teachers would teach activity by activity. As a group, teachers are now looking more carefully at how they teach and what they teach over time. A focus of this inquiry is how they bundle materials together to produce the right support for students to meet learning targets. In service of this work, a team of teachers from around the district spent time over the summer of 2015 organizing the 120 learning targets in literacy into learning progressions. Similar work is under way in other areas.

To communicate their thinking to students, teachers construct success criteria for each learning target. Success criteria are several bullet points that illustrate how both the teacher and student will know that they have met each learning target. Early feedback on communication through success criteria is very positive. As students are more clear about what is expected of them for a learning target, they will be able to take greater ownership of their pacing and choose from curated resources how to get there.

Blended Learning Model

Empowering students to pursue learning targets on their own is a key part of the instructional strategy at Ranum. To that end, Ranum is close to a 1:1 with Chromebooks. Also, they have online curriculum in literacy, math and science. And, Ranum makes use of Empower (from Empower Learning), a learning management system that allows students and parents to both track their own progress and determine how they will meet their learning goals. Adams 50 created an integration between Empower and Khan Academy videos that allows students to choose videos that are aligned with what they need to learn. A goal is to have students be able to use a number of online resources in service of this self-directed work. In this model, teachers lead and facilitate offline classroom work and also function as advisers/coaches as students explore resources on their own and use Google Classroom to work with peers.

Teaching soft skills

Adams 50 has "Personal Social Standards" on which soft skill teaching is based. As with core subjects, staff members are in the process of creating and identifying curriculum for learning targets. Success criteria is now being written based on these standards. The initial focus has been on teamwork and decision making and will expand through all of the standards.


Success criteria have been a powerful organizing structure for assessment at Ranum. They help to make learning targets more tangible in answering the question:  What would it look like to meet this target?  Success criteria are used by teachers to communicate expectations to students for the learning target that they are focused on. They are also used by students to evaluate where they are in their journey to master a learning target. And they are used by teachers as a framework for evaluating when students have met a learning target and can move on to another.

Given that the implementation of competency-based instruction is still in its early stages at Ranum, success criteria provide a way to enforce a common understanding of what it means to reach a learning target while at the same time providing teachers with the flexibility to find their own way of assessing that those success criteria have been met. The staff is moving toward creating common assessments for learning targets, and it is expected that by empowering teachers to find assessment methods that work, over time the best of these approaches will find their way into the common assessments.


Ranum Middle School is organized into five teams with four core academic teachers sharing a group of students. Teachers work in disciplinary pairs, which apply a STEM (math and science) and English/humanities approach. Students are assigned to classes based on their current performance level. Student grouping is flexible, allowing students to be in different groups for different subjects. Students can also shift into other groups as they master performance targets.

The school year is divided into three-week cycles. Each core teacher attended professional learning sessions two days out of every three-week cycle. While the core teacher is engaged in professional development or team collaboration, students work with a PLUS teacher who is responsible for delivering a special curriculum through a PLUS class.  PLUS classes focus on development of personal/social skills in a highly interactive format.

Schedule Basics


Scheduling and CBS

Every child is hand-scheduled at Ranum because of the complexity of matching where individual students are in their learning progressions with the most effective way to group them within their respective grade. Students travel together as a grade, but they may have some learning targets that they still need to complete from a former grade. And, students who progress faster than their initial group will be rescheduled into another group if they meet all learning targets within their current group.

The 2015-16 schedule is a significant departure from years past. School by Design™ worked with Ranum during the winter of 2015 to explore ways that teachers could have more time to plan and collaborate, and staff took the resulting scenarios and developed them into the current master schedule.


2015-16 Master Schedule


Click Image to Enlarge
(2 Pages)

Key schedule strategies:

  • Core teachers have a full day for planning and collaboration twice every three weeks.
  • Elective and intervention teachers have a full day of planning, although less frequent.
  • PLUS teachers teach soft skills as well as some literacy, math, and social studies targets to students while core teachers are working together.
  • Design supports continuous improvement.


Professional Development

Teachers have two full days every three weeks for collaboration and PD. A PLUS Team delivers a separate curriculum to their students when core teachers are out of the classroom. There is a three-week cycle. Teachers have a full day out of the classroom in Week 1 and Week 2 to work with others in their discipline and then an uninterrupted week of instruction in Week 3, with PLUS teachers supporting them in their classrooms (typically to allow for smaller groups for remediation or acceleration).

This time outside of the classroom is essential for teachers to translate the proficiency scales they have co-created into instructional units. An important part of the work is creating success criteria — descriptions of what proficiency in a particular learning target looks like — that they can share with their students. Success criteria for a learning target result in a common understanding between students and teachers of what specifically students are working toward.

In designing units of study, teachers work with consultants to integrate the state’s academic standards, particularly the “Depth of Knowledge” distribution.  Typically, teachers will design a unit or activity on a PLUS day and then report back the next week on what they tried and how it worked.

Student Community

When Ranum students were first asked to participate in longer classes during PLUS lab sessions, many had difficulty. However, as time went on and they got used to the new routine, they began to enjoy the variations in the schedule. Students are now much more engaged in learning. They seem to enjoy being with other students who have similar learning needs and strive to move forward. They are much more aware of what they are learning and what success looks like in each class.

Overall, Ranum students have adjusted well to the PLUS schedule. They know which core teachers are in PD on certain days and have developed positive relationships with their PLUS teachers. Through the PLUS class this year, students are receiving the personal/social and career readiness skills that Ranum has always struggled to provide with authenticity and depth.

Professional Community

An important element of the culture moving forward is that it is assumed that all teachers work hard, but all recognize that it takes more than hard work to be effective within the compentency-based education system. Honesty (with what's working and what is not) and a new depth of inquiry into how to effectively bundle and deliver content are new features of the Ranum culture since the implementation of regular, full-day planning time for teachers.

Family Engagement

Educators at Ranum are seeking a true partnership with parents, but getting families involved has sometimes been a struggle. Many parents work two jobs and have difficulty coming to the school. The hope is that by better defining and communicating student success, parents will become more connected to the school and their children’s learning. To that end, parents have been encouraged to log in to Empower to understand their students progress and their learning targets. Parents are more engaged as a result.