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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Is Competency Education a Disruptive Innovation? The Answer is No

May 8, 2015 by

Disruptive InnovationOnce upon a time when Susan Patrick and I were just starting to understand the field of competency education, we described it as a disruptive innovation…until Michael Horn explained why it wasn’t.

Competency education can be considered an innovation, just not a disruptive one. It may be reaching underserved consumers, but not necessarily with a different value proposition. Competency education isn’t a new product, technology, or service that is introducing new values and benefits to new sets of consumers. It just doesn’t meet the definitions of a disruptive innovation as developed by Clayton Christensen.

But if it isn’t a disruptive innovation, what is it?

I’m not done thinking about this, but wanted to share my thinking to date. The better we get at explaining what competency education is, the better off we will be as a field. (more…)

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European Insights into Competency

May 6, 2015 by

European ConferenceI stumbled across a very helpful article Competency-based education: learning at a time of change in Proceedings of “European/national initiatives to foster competency-based teaching and learning” European Conference 2014. Although there are issues to be considered in translating our competencies to the European competences, this article summarizes a number of ideas that I think will be helpful. (See International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad for more background info.)

I’ve plucked a number of the sections below for you to look at:

  1. Attributes of competency-based learning (for the learner themselves)
  2. Attributes of competency-based teaching
  3. Considerations for writing competency-based objectives

Just keep in mind as you read this that the structure has everything linking back to the outcome — and we know that it in fact we need to keep students at the core.

1. What are the key attributes of competency-based learning?

  • Understand how one learns best (style)
  • Understand exactly what is expected outcome(s) of learning
  • Take responsibility for one’s learning
  • Motivated to learn – goal oriented
  • Ethical person and practitioner
  • Critical thinker
  • Self-assess learning and performance
  • Commitment to ongoing learning


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A School’s Journey to Promote Student Achievement and Ownership of Learning

May 5, 2015 by

Roger Vadeen

Our journey to a true competency-based system has been a long yet rewarding one.

It began with the stark realization that the status quo wasn’t working for our students and far too many of our kids were either not graduating from high school or receiving diplomas and finding themselves ill prepared for the twenty-first century workforce or for college. As you will find, there have been a lot of steps along the way and it has been hard work.

In 2006, a group of principals, teachers, and Adams County School District 50 leaders took a plane north headed for Anchorage, Alaska. Our destination was a small school district near Anchorage called Chugach School District. We had heard about the work of the Chugach District from the Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC) and we were intrigued by the possibilities. I was especially interested to learn more about how students were being authentically engaged in goal setting and making decisions on what they needed and wanted to learn. I heard that students in Chugach were highly engaged in their learning and were taking responsibility for their own learning at levels that surprised even the Chugach teachers. I traveled a long way see this approach to education in action and I was not disappointed.

Following our week-long visit to schools and workshops with the Chugach School District leaders, teachers, and students, we were convinced this approach made sense and we were determined to figure out how we could reinvigorate learning in our district and in our schools. (more…)

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Check Out State and Local Policies at Great Schools Partnership

May 4, 2015 by

Great Schools PartnershipWhat an incredible resource on State and Local Policies the Great Schools Partnership has put together regarding competency education/proficiency-based policies!!!! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

They’ve organized state statutes regarding high school graduation requirements, state learning standards, proficiency-based learning, and multiple/personalized learning pathways for their member states of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. I’ve cut and pasted them for you here – but if you come looking for information in six months, go directly to their website to make sure you have the up-to-date information. You can find other really helpful resources there, as well. (And remember, proficiency-based education is K-12. When some people see the emphasis on high school, as is the case in these resources, they believe that it is only about older students. It’s not – its just that some states have either led with high school or with graduation requirements that put the emphasis on high school.)


High School Graduation Requirements
Chapter 170, Boards of Education, Sec. 10–221a. High School Graduation Requirements (more…)

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Empowering Youth to Chart their Course to Readiness

April 29, 2015 by

This post originally appeared at SparkAction, The Forum for Youth Investment, on February 12, 2015.

A post on the Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) Facebook page offers this student reflection: “At my old school: I was lost and confused and left behind. At BDEA: I get taught as an individual so I can get help with what I need.”

It is common for students talk about a “before BDEA” and an “after,” when describing their education. The school, which overlooks Dudley Square in Roxbury, Mass., is designed specifically for students aged 16 to 24 who are over-age for their grade level or have previously dropped out.

Students typically come to BDEA two or more years behind. Almost all have a spotty school history. Many have experienced deep trauma or personal crisis, and most have been told, directly or indirectly, that they were a lost cause.

By pushing the boundaries of traditional public education—holding some classes in the evening, grouping students by skill level rather than grade or age, replacing letter grades with a three-point proficiency scale—the school is able to support and graduate a population of students that other schools have failed to engage. A majority (85 percent) of students who enroll are still there six months later, according to the most recent assessment. 8 in 10 who complete five trimesters will graduate within three years. (more…)

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High Schools May Be Competency-Based Without Knowing It?

April 25, 2015 by

StudentsDoes your high school offer Advanced Placement or IB tests? If so, you may be participating in a form of competency-based education in the higher education sector.

In his The Landscape of Competency-Based Education: Enrollments, Demographics and Affordability, Robert Kelchen includes AP and IB as a form of Prior Learning Assessment. Kelchen breaks down higher education competency-based education into two forms:

  1. Well-established prior learning assessments (PLA), which grant credits for content a student has previously mastered; and
  2. Newer competency-based coursework, where students progress toward a degree as they demonstrate mastery of new academic content.

I want to emphasize that these two forms apply to higher education. In K12, we are seeing the phrase competency education apply to everything from self-paced online curriculum to the full structural changes as advanced here at CompetencyWorks, which are designed to correct the low achievement and inequity of the traditional time-based system. We don’t think about giving credits to kindergartners who already know how to count to fifty when they enter school, instead focusing on where they are on a very long progression and making sure they are learning in their “zone” (as in, the zone of proximal development). (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

April 23, 2015 by

ESEA MovementScreen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AM

New Designs

  • Building 21 is one of three new innovative high schools designed to transform education. This article describes its one-to-one technology program, data-enriched feedback loops, and more. (more…)
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