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What is Competency Education?

Why Competency Education

The time for competency education has come. It is vitally important for our country to move away from the restrictions of a time-based system. The reasons are many:

  • To ensure that all students succeed in building college and career readiness, consistent with the Common Core of world class knowledge and skills;
  • To take advantage of the extraordinary technological advances in online learning for personalization, allowing students to learn at their own pace, any time and everywhere.
  • To provide greater flexibility for students that would otherwise not graduate from high school because they have to work or care for their families;

Many states are adjusting their state policies to allow for competency education innovations. Ohio’s Credit Flex policy requires districts and schools to provide different ways to earn high school credit. New Hampshire is implementing sweeping reforms to make all high school competency-based.

What is Competency Education?

“In proficiency system, failure or poor performance may be part of the student’s learning curve, but it is not an outcome.”
Proficiency-Based Instruction
and Assessment, Oregon
Education Roundtable

Competency education builds upon standards reforms, offering a new value proposition for our education system. Frequently, competency education is described as simply flexibility in awarding credit or defined as an alternative to the Carnegie unit. Yet, this does not capture the depth of the transformation of our education system from a time-based system to a learning-based system. Competency education also hold promise as districts explore new ways to expand and enrich support to students, challenging the assumption that learning takes place within the classroom. Competency-based approaches are being used at all ages from elementary school to graduate school level, focusing the attention of teachers, students, parents, and the broader community on students mastering measurable learning topics.

In 2011, 100 innovators in competency education came together for the first time. At that meeting, participants fine-tuned a working definition of high quality competency education:

  • Students advance upon mastery.
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

Click here for an in depth look at the working definition.

A Note on Language

The issue of language is always a challenge when new concepts or paradigms are introduced. As you learn about competency education you will encounter multiple phrases used to capture the practice of students advancing upon mastery: standards-based, outcomes-based, performance-based, or proficiency-based. Federal policy is using the phrase competency-based in Race to the Top and other programs.

CompetencyWorks uses the phrase competency education. Why? It furthers the institutionalization of the concept by building on federal policy.

What we call it isn’t important. What is important is that we share a working definition that drives policy and practice towards a learner-centered system in which success is the only option.

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