CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

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Carnegie Unit Conundrum

July 25, 2012 by

How do you translate a measure of time into a measure of learning?

It seems to me to be the same dilemma as trying to convert a measure of length into a measure of weight.  They are fundamentally, conceptually different.  Across the country (including my state of Iowa), state Departments of Education and local school districts are struggling with converting our current Carnegie unit system into a system that measures learning competencies.

It seems impossible to me to be able to translate a Carnegie unit into a competency.

A Carnegie unit was designed to equal the amount of time in school districts across the nation.  It was a measurement that everyone could understand and use to standardize their educational offerings for comparison and accreditation.  Over time, it has become the defining unit for curriculum development, scheduling, and teacher master contracts (prep periods, anyone?). (more…)

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Update on Iowa

July 24, 2012 by

Iowa is advancing towards competency education. In a memo released July 16, 2012, Jason Glass, Director of the Iowa Department of Education outlined the statutory changes affecting schools based on the 2012 legislative session.

It leads with a discussion on SF 2284 on Competency-Based Instruction.

The State Board of Education will be adopting rules to allow a school district or accredited nonpublic school to award credit toward graduation based upon demonstrated competencies rather than “seat time.” The school will determine the assessment methods used to demonstrate competencies. There will be no need to request a waiver from the Department. (more…)

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The Core Business of Schooling: Competency (Part 1)

July 23, 2012 by

These are very exciting and interesting times for the field of education in general and those who are exploring competency as a core component of more effective approaches to education.  Notice I did not call it a “new” approach.

On the one hand, competency has been around as a concept for as long as human beings have been around.  Our own “competence” in terms of managing and manipulating the world around us is one reason we are a dominant species.  (Give thanks to meteors and the extinction of dinosaurs as another.)  Some would say we are approaching “incompetence” in terms of our survival skills on account of how we manage conflict, over use of natural resources and how we produce mind numbingly bad television shows.  However, we are pretty good at many things and our place in the world is evidence of this. (more…)

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The Core Business of Schooling: Competency (Part II)


The Endurance from Wikipedia

If competence is the core business of schooling then why does it seem like a new idea every time it emerges as a topic of reform, debate and consideration?

Part of the answer could be linked to the most important aspect of any venture – its core purpose.  The core purpose of education has long been defined by a contradictory set of principles: one explicit and noble, the other tacit and more base, but seemingly (or at least historically) practical.

The explicit and noble espoused purpose of public education is often paraphrased as being about opportunity and equity – the chance on a level playing field of making more of oneself – the chance to beat the odds of upbringing and class.  Some believe you are given your lot and you have to wait for the next time around to get a better one.  In our society there is a presumption that given certain opportunities people can exceed these pre-determinations and better themselves, their families and thus contribute to the progress of society as whole.  This is a good set of principles and it has served some leading societies well – including a good part of almost every generation of Americans. (more…)

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Where Do End-of-Course Exams Fit In?

July 19, 2012 by

Ready for the exam

Anyone deep in competency education is probably getting a lot of calls from around the country asking for briefings, and advice about how to move forward. So we are going to start a new category of posts aimed at making sense of competency education. We’ll just call it Understanding Competency Education, and it is designed for people who are just diving into the topic. Quite honestly, it is probably for all of us as our understanding deepens.


The first topic is something we are asked about frequently: What is the relationship between competency education and “end-of-course” exams? Does using an end-of-course exam mean that you have implemented competency education? Do you have to use end-of-course exams in a competency education system?

Let’s take this step by step. We are all working together to sharpen our thinking, so please jump in if you think I don’t have this quite right. (more…)

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A Key Support For Students: Supporting Adult Learning for the Sake of Learning

July 18, 2012 by

There is a fairly settled body of research that links the quality of the teacher to the success of the student.  As we move into a more personalized, competency based and increasingly decentralized learning environment how do we build the competencies of adults to better support the learning of students?

For the past year, I have been a student in Harvard University’s new doctoral program in Educational Leadership (Ed.L.D).   The first year involves an intense focus on one’s own “adult development” which I skeptically approached with somewhat of a “been there done that” attitude.  As a leader of a fairly large non-profit, I had my share of 360 evaluations, professional development seminars, executive coaching etc.  I was secure, almost cocky, in my understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and how they did or didn’t support the outcomes that I was hoping for in my own organization and more importantly for the almost 22,000 youth under our watch each year.  As a leader in the sector, I had grown fatigued from all of the efforts that I made to tie the “professional development” that I was being given to the goals that I was striving to achieve.  It felt like work and I had to WORK to feel personally or professionally “developed.”

But low and behold this time the journey was different and something funny happened on the way to “adult development.”  For the first time in years, I reconnected with myself as an adult learner.  Not the kind of adult learner who was trying to learn something to either be in compliance or to improve the various metrics on which I was being evaluated, but as an adult learner who had my own interests and passions, anxieties and questions.  I was asked to actually be curious, to better understand myself, and to pursue new ways of learning that often stretched me beyond my comfort zone and towards my learning edge.


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Responding to Each Student’s Needs and Interests

July 16, 2012 by

Cecilia Le, Senior Project Manager, Jobs for the Future

What would an education system look like that responded to each student’s needs and interests – and based their progression on their individual mastery of vital skills and competencies? And what would it take to get there? These were some of the big questions at Jobs for the Future’s (JFF) Students at the Center symposium. A diverse audience of 150 leading practitioners, researchers, policymakers, and funders came together to discuss the findings of nine syntheses of research on student-centered approaches to learning, funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF). For two days, we approached education from the perspective of the learner, grappling with how to harness old wisdoms and new technologies to make teaching and learning work for each and every student. We heard more than a few people comment that the Common Core State Standards are providing us a precious but narrow window in which people are paying close attention to what actually happens in the classroom. So how can we capitalize on this moment? (more…)

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Must Watch: Maine DOE Videos on Customized Learning

July 11, 2012 by

Okay, Maine Rocks!

On the Maine Department of Education’s channel you can find the six recently released videos on learner-centered education or customized learning.They are really wonderful and could be great tools for discussion with parents, teachers, school boards and students.

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CBE Student Information Systems, What Do We Want Them To Do?


Josh GriffithIf you could build a student information system for a Competency Based Learning System what would it be able to do?  I have been thinking a lot about this lately and have been wondering if there is something out there that will do everything we need.  Or does something new need to be built? Below I outline everything that I would like to see in a student information system.

1) Log progress and mastery of standards, benchmarks, and competencies.

I say progress because it would be great to see what standards, benchmarks, and competencies a learner is currently working on as well as how long they have been working on them.  It would be nice to see a percentage bar notifying what percentage of the standards or benchmarks have been completed for a competency or course.  With the inclusion of a percentage bar it would make it much easier to see when a student is struggling because they have stopped making progress.  It would also be nice to have a time stamp indicating when they started working on those specific standards, benchmarks, and/or competencies. (more…)

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What Kids Tell Us About Why Competency Matters

July 10, 2012 by

Ask a student about how they learn. You will get many different responses as every child is different.  From a high school student, “I want to have a choice in studying what interests me.” Other kids say, “I want to get extra help from teachers when I need it and move ahead when I am ready, not wait for everyone else.” How  do we give them different pathways to learn?

From a student in Colorado: “What if school could be more like video games? You advance when you master a level, then move to the next level.”

This last student was in a competency-based learning environment – where students can move on when they demonstrate mastery and move at their own pace.  This is how the student communicated “competency education” to adults, “what if school could be more like video games?” (more…)

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