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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Warning: Delayed Graduation Possible

February 26, 2015 by

This post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education on February 23, 2015. 


What if parents received these notices on their child’s report cards?

Since 2009, every credit card bill in the United States has been required to notify consumers exactly how long it will take to pay off the debt if making only the minimum payment. This was mandated by Congress in order to establish fair and transparent policies related to consumer debt.

Karla Blog image

Isn’t a child’s education just as important? Don’t we owe full disclosure to parents and educators? Don’t they deserve fair and transparent information? (more…)

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Don’t Capitulate to the Credit Hour, Recreate It

February 24, 2015 by

CompetencyTimeThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on February 23, 2015.

Last month, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released a report titled “The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape.” Chris Sturgis of CompetencyWorks reacted quickly by authoring two fantastic blogs that analyze and criticize the report’s defensive and reactionary take on the Carnegie unit.

Sturgis’s remarks are on point. Given that it’s been a month since the report appeared, I didn’t want to rehash her thorough criticisms, but instead add the below points to the conversation, particularly as they relate to competency-based approaches in K–12 education.

The result of a two-year study, the report examines the history of the century-old Carnegie Unit and its impact on education reform in K–12 and higher education. Although the authors acknowledge that time is not necessarily the best metric for learning, the report grasps continuously at the virtues of the credit hour. As Sturgis aptly pointed out, the paper seems to ignore that the Carnegie unit is—like Carnegie’s very own steel mills and library buildings—manmade. Instead, it treats this artifact as something of an inevitability in a functioning education system. Indeed, the authors are correct that entire systems for funding, tracking, and measuring attendance are tied to the Carnegie Unit. Yet this does not mean that, as is alluded to throughout, the credit hour ought to maintain a life of its own. The researchers also take pains to insist that the Carnegie Unit grounds certain normative values—particularly equity—that are central to American values. Yet, they rarely pause to consider that the credit hour has only been a background condition as those norms have evolved: it is not necessarily the lever making equity possible, but instead a firmly fixed feature of a system that has begun to care deeply about equity only in recent decades. (more…)

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How Can I Tell if a School is Using Performance Assessments?

February 23, 2015 by
Laurie Gagnon

Laurie Gagnon

Project-based learning, problem-based learning, projects, tasks, performance tasks, performance assessments…

When visiting schools over the last several months, I’ve found myself a bit confused about the variety of terms used by teachers to describe their pedagogical philosophy, instructional approaches, and assessments. It becomes even more complicated when teachers start talking about the variety of instructional strategies they use to develop a “personalized approach” for all of their students.

I turned to Laurie Gagnon, Director of Quality Performance Assessment at the Center for Collaborative Education, to help me figure this out. Below is a summary of our conversation:

Question: Laurie, how do you make sense of all of these terms: project-based learning, problem-based learning, projects, tasks, performance tasks, performance assessments… (more…)

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Flexibility in Competency-Based Education

February 20, 2015 by

Digital PromiseThis post was originally published on

When I landed in New Hampshire, I was eager to see competency-based education in action at the secondary level.

I wanted to see teachers guiding their students through individualized learning, units that are unique and cater to the multiple learning styles, and technology-rich classrooms that aided in the whole competency-based approach to learning.

Interestingly, what I saw were classrooms that on the surface looked quite traditional, with students working on the same lesson or exercise.

I walked in a 4th grade class and noticed that each student had an iPad. I leaned down to ask a student what he was working on and he excitedly explained to me that he was planning a party for his teacher using the website (more…)

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Shifting the Culture in Learner-Centered Environments

February 18, 2015 by

Picture CollageIn 2012, the Maine Legislature passed into law LD1422, An Act to Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy. The key element of this legislation is the transition to a standards-based educational system in which graduation from a Maine high school is based on students demonstrating proficiency.

The policy was set, but what does it mean to a district and school to ensure their students are proficient? What had to change? I’ve worked in one district that has undergone the transformation and I’m currently working in another that has started their transition to a proficiency-based system. Each one began by transforming the culture to a learner-centered approach. In both districts, consultants from the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition, a division of Marzano Research, provided us with training and resources to aid in our implementation of this challenging work.

It starts with fully embracing the fact that students learn differently. As we put our beliefs that learners learn in different ways and in different time frames into practice, we began taking bold steps toward creating a meaningful, personalized learning experience for each child. Early on, we gleaned the importance of including all stakeholders, including community groups, students, staff, and parents, in thinking and talking about a culture of learning. (more…)

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What Comes after “Next”?


nextThe question seems laughable, doesn’t it? Particularly for institutions just beginning to hash out what a CBE program might look like for their students, it seems outlandish to consider what comes afterwards. There’s already so much to build and think about now.

At the same time, with newness and promise come chaos and the mad scramble to find the right vendors, partners, financial aid delivery systems to cater to rolling registration, new accreditation management processes, and you-name-it. It’s almost impossible to think about what comes next when everything else in the immediate future seems to bear down more urgently.

Perhaps for others, it’s just as challenging to bother with what’s next when what’s now is so comfortable and going so well. Why experiment when what we’ve got going on now is working just fine?

Each organization implementing CBE probably finds itself somewhere on this continuum between chaos and stability. It’s worth pointing out, however, that almost everyone engaged in building CBE programs today is working within the confines of a degree program. Especially for those in the business of delivering two- or four-year degree programs, it’s difficult to imagine something else replacing a college degree. Inside Higher Ed recently ran a piece on the undeniable pay-off of a four-year degree. Indeed, earnings premiums are often most promising for those who complete their baccalaureate programs. It therefore seems utterly logical to invest in degree programs. (more…)

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The SAMR Model in Blended Learning

February 16, 2015 by

LaptopI’ve worked as a technology integrator and teacher for fourteen years. We’ve adopted a proficiency based philosophy for five of those years. It’s been a monumental shift, but one that is so important for students. No longer is it okay for them to know just 65 percent of the material as evidenced by an averaged grade.

As a teacher, I’ve had to learn to differentiate instruction and scaffold learning for each individual student. Most importantly, I’ve had to learn to let go of what works best for me and focus on what works best for each student.

The switch to a proficiency-based model means that teachers have to be much more intentional in their teaching. It’s no longer a matter of turning to the planbook and seeing what you are teaching that day. You may be teaching pieces of three, four, or five days (or weeks) of your planbook at once. Proficiency-based teaching and learning hinges on the premise that the student determines the pace at which they will work and the means by which they will learn. They expect to have access to learning materials, resources, and interventions as close to 24/7 as possible.

We all recognized early on that technology could be a crucial tool in supporting students in this new model. How well it is used remains a factor.

In technology integration, we have a tool called SAMR. It’s a model that we use to determine the value added to learning by the use of technology. It was developed by Dr. Reuben Puentadura in 2010 and has been used worldwide to move the use of technology in the classroom from simply replacing what we are already doing to transforming the kinds of tasks that students can do. (more…)

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Beyond the Carnegie Unit

February 11, 2015 by

Chinese Proverb Quote“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”

– Chinese Proverb

It’s striking, isn’t it – the juxtaposition of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s recommendation that we keep using the Carnegie Unit (CU) because we don’t really have anything better, and Scott Marion’s incredible post describing a new, interlocking system that better defines student learning goals and targets, teacher goals and outcomes, and assessments that promise a more meaningful measure of learning. The contrasts could not be clearer: one is a system to engage students deeply in learning in a competency-based environment where schools claim responsibility for ensuring that students learn, compared to the less than meaningful Carnegie Unit, in which we only promise exposure to a topic, thereby leaving students to sit through one more lecture in a traditional classroom setting.

Across our country, educators are coming to the conclusion that we can’t wait for think tanks or federal policymakers to lead the way to a personalized system. Instead they are creating a new personalized system of education piece by piece. (You can read all about leading states, districts, and schools here at  CompetencyWorks.)

No one expects any one organization to come up with all the answers, but certainly the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) could have offered something more in their report than telling us what we already know – that the CU is rarely a barrier, with the exception of financial aid and getting the full benefit from online learning, but neither is it a valuable unit of learning. Thus, it allows the standardized system to continue to operate with lower quality than our students deserve and contributing to the inequity that plagues the standardized education system. The report by CFAT was a major disappointment at a time when our country needs leadership and creativity about how we can proceed in re-engineering the standardized system into a personalized one in which students are at the core.

There are three major problems with the paper in regard to the K12 public education system. (more…)

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