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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South Carolina Overview

May 2, 2016 by

SC State FlagIt’s hard to stay on top of all fifty states now that district-wide and whole school competency-based education is expanding so rapidly. (Please note: Even though vendors like to describe their products as competency-based, we do not believe that an adaptive software program can be competency-based. Online programs are simply able to produce flexible pacing based on the algorithms that are used to determine proficiency within the program. This is very different from designing a system based upon a growth mindset and organized to help every student be successful.) Here is a quick summary of what we know about what is going on in South Carolina. If you have any updates, please send them our way.

Two Leading Districts (Are There Others?)


Red Bank Elementary, Lexington

If you know of other districts and schools becoming competency-based in South Carolina please let us know. (more…)

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April CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

May 1, 2016 by

Calendar Page AprilHere are the highlights from April 2016 on CompetencyWorks. Happy reading. And let us know if you have questions you want us to delve into!


Charleston County School District



Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions by Jonathan Vander Els, Jill Lizier, and Terry Bolduc

Building a Movement from Within by Patrice Glancey (more…)

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Ready by Design

April 30, 2016 by

ready by design coverAs middle and high schools across the country make the transition to competency-based structures to replace the sorting structures of the traditional system, they have to answer three big questions along the way:

  1. What do you want students to know and be able to do in order to be successful in the transition after they leave your school?
  2. What is your theory of how students develop? What is your philosophy of how to engage, motivate, and empower students to become lifelong learners who can be successful in college and careers?
  3. What is your pedagogical philosophy? What is your strategy of teaching and learning, and how is that put into practice in your school?

Some schools are very clear on these questions while others haven’t yet taken into account what research tells us about development, engagement, motivation, and learning. To help you think about the second question regarding adolescent development, take a peek at the new paper Ready by Design: The Science (and Art) of Youth Readiness by Stephanie Krauss, Karen Pittman and Caitlin Johnson published by the Forum for Youth Investment. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Measurement Topics, Not Targets

April 29, 2016 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on April 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine. This tip of the week is designed for those schools that are using the measurement topic/learning target model to organize continuum of learning. There are other models being used by schools for which this will not directly apply, although the insights in how we might begin to think about personalizing instruction will be valuable to everyone.

Being a teacher in a learner-centered proficiency based system can mean some big changes. One of the biggest changes in thinking to work through involves taking a step back from working with targets at a particular level, to working with a range of targets within the measurement topic. Remember, a Measurement Topic is a series of related targets arranged in a progression from simple to complex. Measurement Topics do not necessarily have one target, or level, per grade. Nor do Measurement Topics necessarily always make sense to begin when students enter the school system in preK or Kindergarten.

Think about this visual:


The boxes represent three targets, from three different Measurement Topics. In many places, right now this is how teachers approach their work with learning targets. Only the targets typically associated with a traditional grade level are on the proverbial teaching table. If students happen to be on a different target, they are in a different group or maybe even a different class. Planning of lessons and units revolve around this small set of targets. It is possible that the three Measurement Topics are combined in some way. (more…)

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The Personalized Learning Mindset

April 28, 2016 by

RocksThis post originally appeared at Education Elements on April 5, 2016. 

I recently attended Carolina Blends, an event which brings together educators from the region to tour schools and learn from each other. After touring three schools with about 50 educators, I came to believe that before you go on a school tour, you need the “PL Mindset.”

On the tours, I noticed a difference in the educators who already had a the PL Mindset. They understood that we were seeing one short snapshot of a classroom with the good, the bad and the ugly. They asked questions which helped them understand what happens in the classroom week after week. They asked how decisions about what happens in the classroom are made. They asked about how the school was different than before, and what changes they made year-over-year.

The educators without the PL Mindset often asked about which digital content was being used and if the content worked. They often criticized what was happening in the classrooms and said they were doing it better at their own schools. They said they couldn’t do this work because of bell schedules, resources, lack of infrastructure, etc. (more…)

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Charleston: Pinehurst Elementary School

April 27, 2016 by

PinehurstThis is the sixth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall HighGoodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary. 

My final stop of the whirlwind tour of Charleston County School District was Pinehurst Elementary, where I met Principal Dianne Benton and teachers James Tomasello (fourth grade), Lauren Gudger (third grade), and Jason Kraeger (fourth grade). Pinehurst serves 650 students in grades 2-5, 65 percent of whom are English Language Learners, 32 percent are African American, and 100 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch.

I’m always asked what competency education looks like in elementary schools and I do my very best to describe it. However, as I visited these three classrooms, I realized the difficulty in describing it is that it feels like a whirlwind of learning. Students are often doing a lot of different things; sitting quietly on the floor or at their desk working alone, sitting in pairs or triads talking about the topic, solving problems, working on a project, or working with devices in hand. In the corner or along the wall is a table, where the teacher is working with a small group of three to five students. The shoulders and heads form a circle as they stretch toward each other. When needed, the teacher might stand to do mini-lesson on the board. At some point in the class, the teacher will call everyone together for a meeting to make sure they understand the options for that day or the following day.

The walls are loaded with poster paper – shared visions, codes of cooperation, choice boards, resources related to the standards, and data walls for students to indicate their progress. In some rooms, there is a basket of Mardi Gras beads and little instruments for the class to use to celebrate learning when students have mastered a standard. (more…)

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Building a Movement from Within

April 26, 2016 by
Patrice Picture

Patrice Glancey

Within a system of standardized testing and teaching accountability based on student results, it’s understandable that teachers feel like they’re running an obstacle course instead of a classroom. And why wouldn’t they? Federal, state, and local standards are asking them to jump, dodge, and climb all while trying to cram years of content into 180 days. Add to that the paperwork and you get the burnout that we are seeing within our experienced teachers across the country.

It’s no surprise that when competency-education was introduced, veteran teachers rolled their collective eyes, closed the door, and continued on as usual: “This too shall pass.” However, it’s been seven years since New Hampshire included competency education in the Minimum Standards for Public School Approval. This change, which mandates students be evaluated on mastery of competencies, implies that this practice isn’t going away anytime soon. And to be brutally honest, we can’t go back to a one size fits all model; our test scores prove that it doesn’t work.

If I have learned anything about the implementation of competency-based learning over the past few years, it’s that the fire must start from within. Teachers are already feeling overwhelmed by top-down initiatives and they are beyond the point of being able to take in “another great idea.” Derek Sivers (2013) explains during his inspiring Ted Talk How to Start a Movement that every movement needs a leader to get it started. This leader can’t be administration, this leader needs to come from within. Further, Sivers explains that “a leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed,” which not an easy task for most teachers. However, the best schools run on strong teacher leaders who have found success through working in environments that encourage them to take risks and promote “standing out.”

When I arrived at Newport School District this past summer, it resembled what I like to refer to as the “perfect storm”: a new set of administrators, a culture of teachers ready for change, and a budget requiring us to think outside the box. The competency framework had already been developed at various stages K-12 and the previous curriculum director had worked with the teachers to move in that direction. My job was to get the teachers back on track and build off of momentum that had already fizzled out. (more…)

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Nineteen Districts in Idaho Start the Journey to Mastery-Based Learning

April 25, 2016 by
Sherri Ybarra

Sherri Ybarra, Superintendent of Public Instruction

Last week, Superintendent Sherri Ybarra announced the twenty districts/schools that will launch Idaho’s Mastery Education Network (IMEN). According to the press release, “IMEN was authorized in 2015 when Governor Butch Otter signed HB 110 to move Idaho towards a mastery education model. This model will move students away from the current time-based system to a mastery system and allow for a more personalized and differentiated learning experience.”

As Idaho explains in a mastery-based learning system, “students advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace.” Ybarra said, “The beauty of a mastery-based education system is that it is rooted in local control and is truly from the ground up. Local communities, schools, and districts will determine through this effort what is best to meet the needs of their students.” (more…)

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Charleston: A Conversation with Teachers at Goodwin Elementary School


GoodwinThis is the fifth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall High, Goodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary.

Goodwin Elementary School is located in North Charleston, SC. 93 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 70 percent are African-American and 25 percent are Hispanic. Goodwin serves students in child development (CD) through 5th grade. A big thank you to teachers Michelle Mazell, Kelly Vossler, and Shannon Feit for letting me visit their classrooms, and Jessica Lucas, Personalized Learning Coach, for sharing insights into Personalized Learning.

First Steps toward Personalized, Competency Education

Goodwin Elementary was the birthplace of Personalized Learning in Charleston County School District (CCSD). They began their journey during the 2012-2013 school year when a cohort of 12 teachers began exploring best practices for integrating 1:1 iPads as a tool for teaching and learning. “We read everything we could find about personalization and competency-based education,” said Lucas who was then a teacher at Goodwin. “We thought we were researching blended learning but quickly realized Personalized Learning was so much more.” Three months later, the District was awarded one of 16 Race to the Top District grants. The vision for Personalizing Learning across CCSD began to take shape shortly after.

A Conversation with Elementary School Teachers

I began my conversation with Ms. Mazell, Ms. Vossler, and Ms. Feit by asking them what lessons they had learned in their journeys to implement Personalized Learning. Ms. Mazell immediately jumped in, “I was a control freak. I had to learn to let go, and it was really hard for me. I couldn’t imagine that an elementary classroom could run so smoothly without the teacher controlling every minute of the day. However, once I observed a Personalized Learning classroom, I was totally convinced this was what was best for kids. The students are much more interested when they have ownership. I don’t have to worry anymore about the student who is totally disengaged. All students own their learning and they hold themselves and each other accountable for their behavior and mastery of standards.” (more…)

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