Category: Understanding Competency Education

Competency Education Quality Principle #1: Purpose-Driven

October 19, 2018 by

This is the second article in a series based on the book Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education. You can find the section on Principle #1 Purpose-Driven on page 31. The links to the other articles can be found at the bottom of this page and will be updated as they are posted.

What does it mean to be purpose-driven?

For those who use design thinking, it means clarifying the point from which you backward plan. We have to know where we want to get in order to design the school and learning experiences that will get you there. (more…)

CBE Problems of Practice: Individualizing Learning

October 15, 2018 by

This is the fourth in a series on problems of practice. (Check out the articles on gradingattendance, and pace.) We are interested in hearing from readers about other problems of practice they’ve seen or are struggling with in implementation.

4. Defaulting to individual learning rather than cohorts of learners. Building on pace, quite a few districts have pushed for individual learning. It takes a very talented teacher to differentiate to this level; few are trained well to do so, few have received any training, and most are struggling. In fact, recent research suggests that collaboration brings valuable benefits to students and should be considered an important aspect of student-centered learning. (more…)

Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education

October 11, 2018 by

iNACOL and CompetencyWorks released the book Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education today. This book, which started out as a paper and expanded into a primer on competency education with the help of Katherine Casey, completes the collection of papers developed as part of the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. (more…)

Enjoying Learning or Completing Tasks? How Do You Explain Competency-Based Education?

October 9, 2018 by

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

What is competency-based education? It seems that it is harder to explain than it should be. Or perhaps we haven’t put enough energy into trying to make it easily understood. The problem is if we don’t become better able to explain it, then communities across the country will think it is just about a self-paced curriculum, a jazzed up outcome-based model, or a new system of grading. They’ll only implement a sliver of what is, in fact, a major rehaul so that the education system is designed to support and sustain effective teaching and powerful learning.

The problem is further complicated in that the reporters at local newspapers are highly influential in how competency-based education is described. Take this article in the Courier Express for example. Competency-based education is described as: (more…)

CBE Problems of Practice: Self-Pace and Faster is Better

October 8, 2018 by

This is the third in a series on problems of practice. (Check out the articles on grading and attendance.) We are interested in hearing from readers about other problems of practice they’ve seen or are struggling with in implementation.

3. Designs based on student pace, not depth of learning. Quite a few districts have been designing their learning, curriculum, and instruction for kids to pass through the system as fast as they could. Students earn a passing grade (a 3 or at least a C) on something and then quickly moved on to the next thing. This can lead to a series of learning that was “good enough” but never “great.” So students are essentially doing enough to get by but not enough to excel. (more…)

CBE Problems of Practice: Attendance Requirements

October 3, 2018 by

This is the second in a series on problems of practice. (Check out the article on grading.) We are interested in hearing from readers about other problems of practice they’ve seen or are struggling with in implementation.

2. Removing attendance requirements. A few district leaders have argued that attendance requirements in a competency-based school are not necessary. They are wrong. Competency-based education is much more than making “time a variable” or “self-paced.” Its also about schools taking responsibility (accountability if you will) to make sure students fully master the skills and knowledge they need to be successful as thay make the transition to college, careers…and life.

Thus, districts that have removed attendance requirements in early stages of implementing competency education are missing some of the core concepts of competency-based education. We want to measure learning, not the amount of time students were in school. However, time is a variable doesn’t mean students don’t need to come to school. Time is a variable means that the effort to learn and the necessary instructional support will vary which may require more time and more resources. (more…)

Missteps in Implementing Competency Education: Introducing Grading Too Early

September 24, 2018 by

This is the first in a series on problems of practice. (Get started by reading the introduction.) We are interested in hearing from readers about other problems of practice they’ve seen or are struggling with in implementation.

1. Insisting on moving to a 1-4 grading scale too early. Many, many districts moved to adopt the 1-4 grading scale almost immediately. This decision initially draws public attention — but it ends up focused on grading not learning. And it fails to help people understand “why” schools need to change. Furthermore, early grading changes have continued to create problems because they are poorly implemented. (See the article about what needs to be in place before you introduce standards-based grading.) The result is that parents are raising concerns about standards-referenced grading as a form of communicating how their children are doing in school.

On top of poor implementation problems, although higher education has been supportive many scholarships across New England still ask for and require letter grades (and these are far too numerous to get at all of them), and the NCAA, while entirely supportive, requires A-F reporting. At the end of the day, it is a large draw down on a district or schools political capital to make this shift and only a small philosophical victory. FYI, in those states advancing comepetency education through state policies changes in grading are not required.

Getting Implementation Right: There are three lessons from higher quality competency-based schools across the country: (more…)

What Not To Do: Six Problematic Practices in the Transition to Competency Education

September 17, 2018 by

Implementation mistakes cause harm in both the short run and the long run. In the short run, students may be receiving mixed messages that can impact learning, engagement, and motivation or result in inadequate support. In the long run, it harms the competency education movement.

There are always going to be concerns raised by those who oppose competency education based on an ideological or political standpoint such as anti-standards, a wish to return to covering content, and an enduring fear that communism may rear its head if we hold high expectations for all students. However, the larger threat to advancing competency education is shallow or one-off implementation and failure to not address problems of practice . (Please see David Ruff’s article Six Fixes for Proficiency-Based Learning.)

The risk of poor implementation is that competency-based education becomes defined by the problems in the field rather than a definitional, aspirational, or research-based approach. Can you imagine describing the field of medicine, journalism, or agriculture by the errors, missteps, or bad actors? This is why building a field with an agreed upon working definition, design principles, and quality standards is important. Otherwise we leave ourselves to being defined, as in this case, by poor practice.

The Critics Are Our Friends

The fact of the matter is when our critics comment on problems of practice they are often right to do so. We need to take these types of critiques seriously and correct them. These practices are likely to be problematic unless a highly developed model is in place. (more…)

Six Fixes for Proficiency-Based Learning

August 28, 2018 by
david ruff

David Ruff

Two realities almost always arise when we engage in systemic change. First, while the change is framed as universally beneficial, it’s almost always disruptive and frequently gives rise to new and additional concerns. Second, implementation never goes as smoothly as planned. This certainly has happened in Maine as the state has embarked on a courageous journey to shift from an unfair and inadequate learning system to one that is equitable and just.

It is very good news that as this shift has been underway, Maine teachers have remained steadfast in their commitment to better learning for students. Early indications from this change are all good as four-year high school graduation rates in Maine have increased from 80% to 87% over the past seven years, college enrollment rates have increased from 60% to 64%, and college persistence rates have increased from 75% to 77%.[1]

Having noted this, we have to face a reality of the current K-12 public education system in America—it is unfair and designed to inequitably rank and sort students. The US public education system inequitably favors students who start better prepared, who have additional external support, and who are not impinged by non-school demands on their time. In the face of these and other significant obstacles, teachers make heroic efforts every day to treat students fairly and provide myriad learning opportunities to overcome these concerns. While many student success stories result from these significant efforts, these daily acts of heroism fall short of what is needed to close our pernicious equity gaps and ensure each and every high school graduate is well-prepared for the rigors of college and work, and the privileges and opportunities of civic life. (more…)

Summer Reading on Competency-Based Education

July 11, 2018 by

Is it summer yet? It feels like the rate of districts turning to competency-based education is increasing (I just returned from a meeting in Michigan where I learned of at least eight districts advancing toward a competency-based system), and certainly our rate of learning is. Although I actually hope that everyone disconnect for a few weeks during the summer and not think about competency education, I did promise to provide an updated summer reading list. I’ve organized the list into categories: learning sciences; for newbies seeking to understand what competency education is; building commitment; preparing for implementation; and thinking ahead on the issues and challenges in the field of competency-based education. (more…)

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