Tag: competencies

Going deeper or going further: Where students advance in competency-based models

July 7, 2014 by

Originally posted Jan. 29, 2014 at The Christensen Institute.

Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

The crux of competency-based education is that students advance only upon mastery. This is a deeply logical approach to unlock each individual student’s ability to learn at his own pace. Students who have not yet demonstrated mastery should not advance before they have filled the gaps in their understanding because, left neglected, these gaps only stand to grow as students try to take on more challenging work. Likewise, students who have demonstrated mastery should be able to progress forward to new or more challenging material, rather than being made to wait for the time allotted for a given lesson to elapse. Clear as this may be, however, there is some debate as to what we mean by “advance”: if we imagine this to be linear, do we think advancing means going “rightward,” progressing onto the next unit or eventually onto the next course? Or might advance actually mean going “downward,” deeper into additional applications or more sophisticated concepts?

This is not a new debate in competency-based circles, and it is one that some dismiss as sheer semantics. That’s because usually within a unit or course, “new” topics will often build on the topics that a student has already mastered; in other words, a new skill or content area will be a deeper iteration of the prior one. But the notion that wherever students go next is inherently a “deeper” exploration of material might not apply to every model and might not always achieve the goal at hand. In some settings, we may value moving students through a lot of material more quickly—I think, for example, of how many of my law school classmates studied for the Bar Exam. In that context, there is so much to cover that a strategic use of study time means not necessarily going deep on every topic; still, Bar preparation software programs are often competency-based, in that they require you to pass certain modules to move on to new topic areas. (more…)

Counted or not, doing what counts in competency-based education

April 29, 2014 by
Eduardo Briceño

Eduardo Briceño

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
- William Bruce Cameron (and on a sign hanging in Albert Einstein’s office)

Competency-based education comes with the risk that we focus only on those competencies that can easily be measured and overlook other competencies that are also critical for success in today’s and tomorrow’s world. If we’re mindful of what students need and design our competency-based systems accordingly, however, we can make competency-based education all it can be.

How we can get into trouble

In a competency-based system, each learner focuses on knowledge and skills at the right challenge level, just beyond what is known, and progresses to the next level upon mastery rather than based on age or time. This makes a lot of sense. It’s how people learn. (more…)

Technology Tools Lag Our Competency-based Aspirations

December 4, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 3.48.28 PMThis post was originally published by the Christensen Institute on November 13, 2013.

Last week I wrote about structural barriers inhibiting competency-based education from taking off, even when policy shifts away from seat-time requirements to welcome innovation. In addition to the organizational structures keeping educators and leaders locked into time-based habits though, there is also a dearth of technology tools to support competency-based education. Most technology tools at competency-based educators’ fingertips reflect time-based practices that resist individualized learning pathways and the ability to track an individual student’s mastery. Liz Glowa’s paper from this past February does an excellent job summarizing the extent to which existing technologies are currently ill suited to competency-based approaches.

Because competency-based models remain few and far between, however, it’s difficult to say what the most transformational edtech solutions might be. To gain a sense of the answer, I surveyed a few competency-based educators on the issue of what software solutions most egregiously lag the pedagogical developments and ambitions of a fully competency-based school.

Joseph Crawford, founder of Next Charter School, a project-based learning high school in New Hampshire, currently uses a complex array of excel spreadsheets to track students’ individual progress against competencies. He described the particular shortcomings of learning management systems in an email:

One thing that I have noticed about most, if not all, LMS’s is that they seem to attach standards to courses and assessments to courses and then allow for a means of assigning a score or grade to each assessment. This is very different than what we do. We have a battery of standards (we call them Performance Indicators), which we individually assess, based on a review of student-created artifacts or projects. The result is that each student meets indicators only when he demonstrates mastery of said indicator with evidence. We have yet to find a tool that allows us to individually assess indicators and attach indicators and artifacts in a patchwork, web-like structure (one artifact may address multiple indicators). (more…)

Competencies For Competency Education?

May 27, 2013 by

csbouldersmallWith the help of our Advisory Board, Susan Patrick and I have been trying to sketch out a) which competencies are needed to implement competency education and b) what a core set of trainings would look like to support state, district, and school personnel in developing these competencies. We don’t have funding for this, nor do we know of anyone else who has funding – but we think it is important to put these ideas out there as states, districts, and schools charge ahead, and we need to be able to make the best thinking and best resources available.

We have been thinking about creating a set of “badges” based on a framework within which we can capture the essential knowledge and skills. Depending on your role, what you will need to know and be able to do is different.

Our rough draft ideas are below – but we know it’s not quite right.  First the language needs to be inspiring and capture the spirit and joy of learning. Second, the overarching framework doesn’t work quite right. We also have a long way to go to get these key questions right.  We’d love to hear your ideas about how to break this up in a meaningful way for schools and educators. In fact, if you have already started to create a set of competencies  or a badging process for the adults, please tell us about it as we might be able to build off of your efforts.

Initial Draft of Competency Education Badges

Expert (4): I’ve had successful experiences in competency education that produced increased achievement for students and can support my peers.
Experienced (3): I’ve implemented it – it may not be perfect but I’m learning from my mistakes.
Novice (2): I’m working on planning and early implementation right now. Wow I have a lot of questions.
Explorer (1): I’m becoming familiar with the concepts, implications, and design choices.

1.    Engagement and Communication

  • What is competency education?
  • Why is it important?
  • How to engage educators, students, families, and broader communication?
  • How to create an engagement plan? (more…)

21st Century Skills and Designing Competencies

January 23, 2013 by

andrew miller

Competencies provide a unique opportunity to truly teach and assess 21st Century Skills. While there are many 21st Century Skills out there, the 4Cs (Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication) are probably the most prevalent. As I wrote in a blog on the Huffington Post, many educators run up against the wall of true assessment of 21st century skills in our traditional Education System. Many districts are not comfortable putting “grades” to 21st Century Skills, but as we move towards competencies, all educators will not only have be comfortable, they will have to embrace them with open-arms. (more…)

A GPS for Competency Education

January 9, 2013 by
from asiasociety.org

from asiasociety.org

We are now starting to see whole networks of schools move towards competency education.  The Asia Society, which has 34 schools in their International Studies Schools Network (ISSN), has four schools (Newfound Regional High School in Bristol, NH; Sharpstown International School in Houston, TX; and two schools in Denver, CO – the Denver Center for International Studies and the Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello) working together to build a Graduation Performance System (GPS) as the basis for a mastery-based system that awards credit based on proficiency in core courses.  They are designing the GPS with an eye towards integrating anywhere/anytime learning opportunities that include community- and digitally-based learning environments.


The ISSN has a focus on preparing students for global competence, with an activist dimension, that includes but goes beyond the Common Core and our national focus on college and career readiness


The ISSN schools have organized curriculum and learning pathways into 6 core subject disciplines and 4 domains of global competence (investigate the world, recognize perspectives, communicate ideas, and take action). They continue to use grade-level benchmarks as a way of organizing learning progressions and assuring proficiency along the way.

Competencies are designed with “I Can” statements. For example: I can develop a mathematical model that fits a particular situation. This means that I can use mathematics to create a representation, description, or quantification of some aspect of a situation. It also means that the model should use all the relevant data and information provided. (more…)

Wading into the Water: Curriculum Design for Competency Education

January 2, 2013 by

from Making Mastery Work

The section on Curriculum and Instruction in Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education is chock full of insights into the dynamics of setting up and sustaining a competency-based school.

It’s not surprising (but still frustrating) to learn that the curriculum publishing industry “has yet to wade successfully into the waters of competency education[…]”  This means that teachers are “being stretched to develop and adapt curriculum and formative assessments[…]” So clearly when planning for competency education it’s worth it to take some time to see if you can borrow other schools’ curriculum and assessments as a starting point. It probably won’t meet your teachers’ preferences exactly, but it is often easier to adapt than to start from scratch.

So what makes curriculum for competency education different than traditional time-based curriculum?  Here are a few things that jump out of the report:

Design for Significant Scaffolding:  In a competency-based school, instruction is provided at the targeted levels for each student, not at the level they should supposedly be at because of their age or grade-level.  So the curriculum needs to be able to reflect that. As highlighted in an early blog post, this is an issue at any school serving low-income students or whose parents didn’t go to college, not just alternative schools. (more…)

When Is It Competency Education? And When Is It Not?

December 14, 2012 by

Photo by Jorge Machado

It’s getting popular. Many schools claim to be using competency education. Does offering adaptive software or blended learning immediately make a school competency-based?

It’s getting confusing. Blended/online learning and competency education are often used interchangeably, even if the blended learning is being used in a totally time-based system.

What to do?  We need some common language. So here is a first cut using a competency-based grading model. (A note: I use course to describe a unit of learning and level to describe a band of learning along the full K-12 learning progression, which we refer to as grades such as 1st or 10th grade in the time-based system) :


Exceeding Is More Complicated Than Adding Glitter and Flash

November 29, 2012 by

There are different ideas about the best way to report student progress towards targets, or competencies.  One of the most popular methods is to use a 4 point scale with levels described similarly to the example below:

4 = Exceeds
3 = Meets
2 = Partially Meets or Developing
1 = Does Not Meet or Emerging

In the book Making Standards Useful In The Classroom, Marzano lays out the following scale:

4 = In addition to score 3, in-depth inferences and applications beyond what was taught
3 = No major errors or omissions regarding any simple and complex information/skills that were explicitly taught
2 = No major errors or omissions regarding the simpler information/skills
1 = With help, a partial understanding of some of the simpler information/skills and some of the more complex ideas and processes

In our school, we are beginning to use the following descriptions for performance levels, based on the Marzano scale:

4: Advanced (I can use what I learned in a new way)
3: Proficient (I learned the foundational and complex parts and can apply them)
2: Foundational (I know the foundational parts)
1: Dependent (I can show what I learned with help)

If you are in a school or district that uses a scale like any of the ones above, then sooner or later you and your colleagues need to figure out what it means for students at your particular grade level and in your particular content area to “exceed” on the targets.

I know, I know, someone out there is thinking that in a truly competency-based system a student would never be “partially meeting” or even “exceeding” because as soon as a student demonstrates proficiency for a target they would move on the next level of difficulty in a learning progression.  Unfortunately many of us are not yet working in a truly competency-based system where this is possible. Further, in many cases it is more appropriate to encourage and push students to go deeper with knowledge and applications rather than moving them along to the next target. (more…)

Five Things That Changed At My School When We Adopted Competencies

November 15, 2012 by

Jumping into the deep end of competency education

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.

The second best time is now.”

This ancient Chinese proverb sums up my view on why, just three years ago, it was time for my school, Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH, to stop “talking” about making the change to a competency-based grading and reporting model, and why it was time to start “doing it.” With a leap of faith in support of the latest educational research from authors Colby, Marzano, O’Connor, Reeves, Stiggins, and Wormeli, our school community “jumped into the deep end of the pool” of high school redesign. Looking back on this now, I firmly believe it was the best thing we could have done. While we haven’t solved all of our issues yet, I think we are well on our way toward realizing our vision of “learning for all, whatever it takes.”

As you might expect, our leap of faith into the deep end of the pool didn’t happen without some advanced strategic planning and groundwork. In the years leading up to our jump, teachers in my school spent a great deal of time developing common course-based competencies and making sure they were aligned to the New Hampshire Grade Span Expectations (GSEs) and ultimately the common core. They worked in teams to develop common assessments and common rubrics to measure student learning. As a school, we talked about the importance of focusing our professional work on student learning and mastery of competencies. Still, we were only scratching the surface of our potential. We knew that if we truly wanted to impact student learning on a large-scale in our school, we were going to have to operate differently.

Last year, we developed a blueprint to help us become a premiere high school in New Hampshire. We identified three “pillars” of success, and we recognized that if we could do these three things well, then everything else would fall into place:

Pillar One:  Our LEARNING COMMUNITIES work interdependently to advance student learning and academic performance for which we are collectively responsible and mutually accountable.

Pillar Two:  Our STUDENTS ARE ENGAGED in learning tasks and performance assessments that accurately measure learning and mastery of competency.

Pillar Three:  Our community fosters a POSITIVE SCHOOL CULTURE AND CLIMATE for each of our stakeholders that promotes respect, responsibility, ambition, and pride.

Since the adoption of our pillar model, we have made some great strides toward becoming a premiere school. Here are five ways our school has changed since we went to a competency-based model: (more…)

WordPress SEO fine-tune by Meta SEO Pack from Poradnik Webmastera