Category: Understanding Competency Education

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…)

Webinar on Equity in Competency Education

July 9, 2018 by

We are facing a substantial challenge in ensuring that we are implementing effective competency-based strategies. Join CompetencyWorks on July 18 2-3 ET for a discussion about Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed. Learn about design principles to pay attention to and red flags that there may be a problem in implementation. Register here.

Ten Distinguishing Features of Competency-Based Education

June 13, 2018 by

Many of you have told us that we needed a stronger explanation of competency-based education beyond the working definition developed in 2011 to help create a shared understanding. In the paper Levers and Logic Models, we introduce ten distinguishing features of competency-based education from traditional systems based on the incredible insights from the people participating in the Technical Advisory Group on defining competency-based education (you are all recognized in the paper – we are forever grateful for your generosity of time and expertise).

From talking to district and school leaders, I think it is helpful to think about the flaws of the traditional system, which produce variability and reproduce inequity, as well as how the distinguishing features work together to create a system that motivates students and adults and also produces consistency and greater equity.

Please feel free to use the distinguishing features and the icons in your own communities. Just give credit based on Creative Commons attribution. These ten features can be easily converted into a self-assessment tool for you to use to use with your colleagues in your district and schools.

Ten Distinguishing Features of Competency-Based Education

Purpose and Culture

1. Student success outcomes are designed around preparation for college, career and lifelong learning. Traditional systems narrowly prioritize and measure academic skills, often at the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Competency-based systems emphasize ensuring that students can apply academic knowledge and skills to new contexts and become adept problem-solvers and independent learners. Thus, competency-based districts and schools align around academic knowledge, transferable skills and the ability of students to become lifelong learners. Culture, pedagogy, and structures are designed to develop student agency, build foundational academic knowledge and engage students in deeper learning that provide opportunities to engage in real-world problems.

(more…)

What Will Students Experience in a Competency-Based School?

March 27, 2018 by

As you might know, CompetencyWorks has been using virtual collaborative processes, fondly known as a Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs), to build knowledge that draws from local, state, and national leaders. In a TAG that was aimed at creating a way of defining and explaining competency-based education, an unexpected set of ideas was developed: What should students expect to experience in a competency-based school? We hadn’t planned to build this out, but now we have it.

Districts and schools, after adapting for their own approach based on their student outcomes and the mediating factors of who their student population is as well as the local context, should be able to turn this into a rubric or survey to provide feedback on how deep and broad their implementation is. However, I’d like to ask you: How might you change or add to this list of the expected student experience in a personalized, competency-based school?

What will students experience in a competency-based school?

Below are examples of experiences that every student should have in a well-developed personalized, competency-based system.

1. I will be fully supported in developing academic knowledge and skills, the ability to apply what I have learned to solve real-world problems, and the capacities I need to become an independent and lifelong learner. (more…)

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