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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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

September 9, 2015 by

A documentary titled “Most Likely to Succeed is premiering at the 2015 Sundance Festival. This trailer discusses grades, and this short video clip highlights students creating innovative projects and authentic assessments. Chris Sturgis provides commentary on this documentary in this blog post.

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  • This article provides an overview of the information management tool called Slate, which provides data-driven support to teachers, powering them with the information to provide immediate supports to students in real-time.
  • Most conversations in the education sphere revolve around ensuring students are ready for college and career. This article flips the conversation and asks if our colleges are student-ready.
  • In Pittsburgh, digital badges find their niche through a community effort made possible through the support of Pittsburgh City of Learning. Five thousand learners streamed into 100 (mostly free) summer programs, including digital media programs, drop-in maker spaces, and paid internships, recording their work through badging.
  • California’s Lindsay Unified School District has eliminated grades and grade levels. This article provides an overview of Lindsay’s design, discusses the transition for stakeholders, and explores the changing grading system.

Movement in the States

  • Idaho is moving away from seat time and towards a mastery-based system through HB 110, which was signed into law on March 19, 2015 by Governor Otter, and the law took effect on July 1.
  • Ohio began the piloting process for competency education, made possible through HB 64, which allows five selected applicants to plan and implement competency-based programs during the pilot’s duration (2015-16 through 2018-19 school years).
  • This Op/Ed article by David Kelley provides a wonderful overview of the history of Vermont K-12 education, including bold initiatives toward revolutionary change through personalized learning plans and proficiency-based learning.
  • Nebraska’s State Board of Education started a new study committee on competency education. The first task assigned to the Board is to define competency-based education.
  • Connecticut passed legislation five years ago in an effort to boost high school graduation requirements, including higher standards in mathematics, science and foreign language, among others. Implementation has been delayed due to funding issues, and some say the legislation is now outdated because more credits does not equate to higher standards.

Helpful Resources



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8 Ways To Encourage Soft Skills (Core Dispositions) in our Children

September 8, 2015 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on August 29, 2015.

In this post on soft skills I asked the question: What do we want our kids to be like? When it comes down to it, we parents want more than exemplary test scores and gold stars on papers, we want what will last. We want the kinds of character traits our kids will rely on to pull them through when we aren’t around, like optimism or grit. We want something at the core of who they are that will help them make the right decision when nobody’s looking: integrity. We want them to try one more time when they are ready to give up: perseverance. We want that irreplaceable feeling inside that grins from ear to ear when they accomplish something awesome without taking shortcuts or using cheat codes that only comes from intrinsic motivation and pride in their own efforts. We want them to see through the eyes of others and help those in need, feeling compassion and empathy.


It’s so fluffy!

Parents and teachers alike agree this kind of personal growth and development matters, but these qualities still seem intangible, subjective, and hard to see and measure. I mean, what does (insert soft skill) look like? The very term ‘soft skills’ sounds pretty fluffy and doesn’t command the sense of importance it deserves.  So how might we, as parents, highlight and nurture these core dispositions in our children? (more…)

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I’m So Excited…and I Just Can’t Hide It

September 4, 2015 by

ExcitementThe competency education strand at the iNACOL Symposium looks excellent! There are sessions on New Hampshire’s efforts to create a balanced system of assessments, how to convert your schools (both elementary and high school) to competency education, how to meet students where they are and address gaps in student’s foundational skills, strategies for prototyping, and how to increase diversity in the field. And let me give a special thanks to Reinventing Schools Coalition and Springpoint Schools for organizing sessions where we get to hear from students and teachers.

Here is a sampling of the sessions related to competency education. And remember—there are two pre-conference workshops on November 8, as well.

November 9

The Art and Science of Teaching in a Competency-Based System:

Rick Schreiber of Reinventing Schools Coalition (now part of Marzano Labs) will walk participants through a series of interactive tasks to identify essential questions that represent a logical planning sequence for successful competency-based instructional design. They will analyze their current instructional units and review them through a competency-based lens. Learn important teacher behaviors for engaging students in owning their learning as well as understanding essential instructional routines that provide clear learning goals and define levels of proficiency.

Being Honest, Getting Serious: Increasing Racial Diversity Among Staff & Boards in the Learning Revolution Movement

John Branam of Learning Accelerator and I will be leading a discussion on the dynamics of the transformation that is happening in American education today. While our nation’s schools are increasingly black and brown, the overwhelming majority of individuals leading the revolution are white. Are you comfortable with this? If not, join us. During this session we’ll share statistics about the diversity of boards and staff from revolution-leading organizations and, more importantly, identify how you can help address this racial imbalance.

Rethinking Assessments to inform Competency-Based and Personalized Education

In Spring 2015, Member States of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium approved a competency education plan. Smarter also delivered standardized assessments to seven million students in eighteen states during that time. Brandt Redd, CIO of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, will lead an experience with sample assessments, interpretations of sample reports, and an overall vision of how standardized assessments can contribute important insights to their competency-based and personalized learning efforts.

Talk Less, Do More: How Prototyping Can Lead to Successful Competency-Based Implementation

Colleen Broderick of the Donnell-Kay Foundation will share learnings on the power of engaging users to explore a variety of assumptions and unveil solutions where research and replication falls short. This session outlines their competency framework and engages participants as a potential user through a variety of rapid prototypes designed to test ideas and provide fodder to successfully assess the viability of strategies before fully implementing a competency-based model. [See Thinking Way, Way, Way Out of the Box at the Donnell-Kay Foundation.] (more…)

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Most Likely to Succeed is Almost a Great Film

September 3, 2015 by

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. “Class in language” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1904.

I had the chance to watch the film Most Likely to Succeed recently. It is a fantastic film in so many ways and is going to be so helpful in our efforts to engage parents and students…in some communities. It is also a deeply disturbing film in its white-washing of history, raising questions about the purpose of the filmmakers.

No matter what, the film is a great way to engage communities, parents, and students in conversations about personalization, the purpose of education, traditional grading practices, and how college admissions processes shape our high schools (there is a great scene where a student says they would rather learn how to ace a test than learn). It will be invaluable in engaging parents and students who are successful in the traditional system (i.e., that group of students who are highly motivated by adding another tenth of a point to their GPA).

The film challenges the design of the traditional education system in today’s information-over-loaded world and makes the case that in today’s rapidly changing digital economy, many of the jobs college-educated young adults might seek are disappearing. It argues that those so-called soft skills of problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration are what is needed. It does a beautiful job at explaining the development of the education system from Horace Mann’s trip to Prussia and the roots of militarism of our school system, which resulted in organizing schools by age, subject, and ability. It also explains how the Committee of Ten created the way we organize academic subjects one hundred years ago that still remains today.

Focusing in on two students at High Tech High, it then explores how robust project-based learning helps develop those important skills — leadership, analysis, creativity, time management/professional responsibility and collaboration. The juxtaposition of the filmmaker’s daugher being asked to persevere through math classes when she doesn’t understand the content and isn’t receiving adequate support and that of helping a student whose vision is larger than his skills persevere through months of working to complete a project is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant!

My only concern with the educational message of the film is that it confuses fact with knowledge, thus under-valuing deep knowledge of the disciplines. Yes, more facts than we can possibly absorb are at our fingertips in the digital age, but understanding and being able to use mathematical and scientific concepts are equally important to any soft skills. If you use the film to engage your community I’d be prepared to have someone with high levels of credibility be able to speak to this issue so folks don’t walk away thinking that students don’t need to develop academic knowledge.

My big concern with the film is its shocking whiteness. In telling the story of the traditional education system, the filmmakers used historical clips of students in schools, people at work in fields and in factories, and an “average” family in the 1960s – all with white people. It feels almost tribal in its approach, as if the filmmakers can’t see any world other than a Caucasian one. All the experts interviewed are white, as well. They do a bit better later on in the film when it is based in High Tech High, but by that time I had started wondering: Is this film really just for white people and what they need to do in order to maintain their economic advantage? (more…)

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Developing a Growth Mindset at Fraser Public Schools

September 2, 2015 by

FraserThe following is a presentation made at Fraser Public Schools on September 2. Fraser has already invested in integrating technology into their classrooms and developing blended approaches to learning. They are now seeking to develop a competency-based infrastructure that will ensure students get the support they need.

This presentation explores what competency education is, examines how districts are developing their models, and takes a deeper dive into the new values and assumptions underlying personalized, competency-based systems and how they shape new practices. For those of you wanting to skip ahead of the definition, the section on districts starts at slide 10 and the section on the new values starts on slide 25.


There are many ways to open the door to discussion of competency education. We could talk about why the traditional system doesn’t work or we could start with the classroom and expand into policy. Today, we’ll start with a bird’s-eye view of competency education and then go a bit deeper to visit some of the leading districts to find out what they are learning. We’ll wrap up with a look at the new set of values and assumptions that drive competency education.

Slide 17

Competency education is called different things in different states – ME and OR call it proficiency-based; CT calls it mastery-based; IA and NH call it competency-based. As soon as we update this map, we hear of another state taking a step forward. In June, it was Idaho and Ohio. I just heard that Nevada is starting a study group to learn more about it. It is spreading across the country because educators believe it is the best thing for kids.

I am confident that we are going in the right direction because many districts, without enabling state policy, are converting their schools to competency education. Examples include Lindsay in California, Warren and Springdale in Arkansas, Charleston in South Carolina, Henry and Fulton in Georgia, Freeport in Illinois, and Lake County in Florida.

Competency education has started in smaller districts in rural areas and inner ring suburbs. We think smaller districts are better positioned to make the change because it’s easier to engage community and easier to have more dialogue rather than resorting to memo/email for communication. (more…)

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What’s More Important, High Test Scores or Self-Direction?

September 1, 2015 by

Child StudyingThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on August 17, 2015.

The education technology discussion is fraught with false dichotomies. One that I find particularly troubling is the false choice between improving test scores and preparing for life and work in the 21st century.

The argument on one side is that the United States is falling behind other countries with evidence offered such as our 30th place showing in math on the PISA test. In order to be competitive, we need to increase our scores on such international benchmarks. To achieve this we should:

  • Shift the focus in schools from what content is presented by teachers to what content has been learned by students. In order to ensure that focus changes, teachers must be held accountable for actual student test scores rather than just presenting the curriculum.
  • Ensure students have technology available for digital learning and collect data for real-time feedback to focus more on the needs of each individual student.
  • Use technology and blended learning to enable students to move at their own pace and progress based on mastery rather than seat time.
  • Personalize learning by providing an optimal path for each student through the core content they need to know for college.

On the other side, the argument is that the focus on test scores is unbalanced and has replaced meaningful learning with the rote memorization of facts and procedures with little critical thinking involved. This has unintended consequences of hampering great teachers’ ability to teach, while driving the best out of the profession while failing to improve test scores. The reasoning is that such rote decontextualized pedagogy is ineffective because it is irrelevant to students and gives them no context in which to place the new information in order to both understand it more deeply and remember it more effectively. This leaves students unprepared for college, but more importantly unprepared for a constantly evolving workplace. To prepare students effectively we need to: (more…)

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Alternative Credential Adoption in Higher Ed

August 31, 2015 by
Kristi DePaul

Kristi DePaul

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on August 21, 2015.

Nanodegrees. Microcredentials. Digital badging.

Whatever you might call them, various types of alternative credentials have gone mainstream in many areas outside of academia. Professional associations, industry organizations, and nonprofits have embraced them as a way for members and patrons to demonstrate participation in certain activities or in completing training modules. They are a visual, verifiable answer to “show me what you know,” as employers increasingly seek out hires whose skillsets can be proven rather than merely listed on a résumé.

Many discussions have arisen regarding modularized education and the technology required to support it, such as those resulting from the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment report, which was released by EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative this past spring. Institutions that offer alternative credentials would allow individuals to show knowledge acquisition in niche areas, codifying achievements that previously went unacknowledged as part of a greater whole (the ‘traditional credential’).

Earning an alternative credential, however, remains a bold new frontier for many traditional degree-granting institutions. (more…)

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Going International: A Report from Mexico on Competency Education

August 28, 2015 by

EduTrends ReportIn case you missed it and want some end-of-summer reading . . . Mexico’s Observatory of Educational Innovation, Tecnologico de Monterrey, released an EduTrends report in February 2015 titled Competency Based Education, which focuses on higher education, yet many of its concepts apply more globally to K-12 models as well. The publication provides an overview of competency education, describes the changing role of the educator, illustrates international case studies, and analyzes the future of competency education as a learning architecture.

As the graphic below depicts, there is tremendous simplicity in the report’s description of competency-based education as a model that is: 1) centered on the student; 2) focused on mastery of competencies; and 3) based on learning outcomes. The learning outcomes are central to the model and essential to each student’s learning, and time for achieving each learning outcome is variable. This model of education portrays the acquisition of knowledge as the most important attribute of the learning process, not rote memorization nor hours invested.

CBE Model

In addition, the report utilizes the iNACOL/CCSSO/CompetencyWorks five-part definition of competency-based education, demonstrating our widespread reach and global impact on the field. In March 2011, iNACOL and CCSSO brought together 100 leaders in education to establish the following key design principles of competency education: (more…)

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Non-Cognitive Skills: Bad Name, Really Important

August 27, 2015 by

BlocksThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on August 15, 2015.

The research is clear, so called non-cognitive skills are key to success in college and work.

  • A 20-year study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the July 2015 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that kindergarten students who are more inclined to exhibit “social competence” traits—such sharing, cooperating, or helping other kids—may be more likely to attain higher education and well-paying jobs.
  • A University of Chicago literature review funded by the Lumina and Raikes foundations said, “Students must develop sets of behaviors, skills, attitudes, and strategies that are crucial to academic performance in their classes.”Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners outlines categories of non-cognitive factors related to academic performance including behaviors, perseverance, mindsets, learning strategies, and social skills. It’s not just struggling students that benefit, “all students are more likely to demonstrate perseverance if the school or classroom context helps them develop positive mindsets and effective learning strategies.” The report outlines five key learning strategies, 1) study skills, 2) metacognitive strategies, 3) self-regulated learning, 4) time management, and 5) goal-setting.
  • Research done by Penn prof Angela Lee Duckworth determined that grit and self-control predict success in life. On the other coast Stanford prof Carol Dweck found that a “growth mindset”–the belief that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—was critical to success compared to a belief that intelligence is fixed.
  • Bill Sedlacek partnered with the Gates Millennium Scholars Program (GMSP) to study what attributes were predictors of college degree attainment for students of color. He found eight noncognitive competencies that were higher predictors of success in college than either GPAs or SAT/ACT scores. The non-cognitive competencies include realistic self-appraisal, navigation skills, focus on long range goals, leadership, work experience.


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