I worked for a school district and high school that made the transition from a traditional to a competency-based grading and reporting system about five years ago. As one of the early adopters of what has now become a national educational reform movement, my fellow administrators and I often get inquiries from colleagues around the nation who are looking for advice as they make a similar transition in their own school or district. One of the biggest categories of questions we field from other administrators is on communication with parents about the competency education model. In this article, I will share with you some of the most frequently asked questions that we get from our parents and how we typically respond.
How is a competency education model different from a traditional one?
Competency education is based on the principle that the grades a student receives measure what the student knows and is able to do. Courses are organized into competencies that measure a student’s ability to transfer content and skills in and across content areas. Students are assessed on these competencies through performance assessments—multistep assignments with clear criteria, expectations, and processes that measure how well a student transfers knowledge and applies complex skills to create or refine an original product. Teachers use rubrics to measure student learning on these assessments and report that learning on report cards and transcripts by skill or competency.
Competency education diverges powerfully from the traditional “one size fits all” approach. In the best examples, students are given many opportunities and many pathways to demonstrate that they have reached competency. They are able to progress at their own pace. Their teachers provide individualized instruction and coach them through their learning progression. Teachers collaboratively develop the assessments that will measure how well students have performed. The result is a more rigorous education that identifies exactly what students know, are able to do, and to what degree.