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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Productivity and Progress

January 21, 2013 by

from Making Mastery work

In the report Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education, the authors highlight four findings on information management systems used by the ten schools in the Proficiency-based Pathways Project:

  • Performance tracking is often the first priority for competency education system building. A simple system can go far, but there is still far to go.
  • Schools must often—still—straddle traditional and competency education systems.
  • Neither packaged courseware products, which have little flexibility, nor learning management systems that allow for maximum customization but offer no content, meet teacher needs for online curriculum delivery systems.
  • A human system needs to work in tandem with the performance data system

Most importantly they remind us that “even though a student or teacher can go online and track performance, people need to figure out how to use that powerful information effectively.”

The report goes on to give examples of how the schools are managing all the data on student learning that is generated, making sure that there is transparency so students see that data as well, while deploying resources to either retrofit time-based products or convert into time-based structures. (more…)

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Question Making

January 19, 2013 by

from Making Mastery Work

There is something a bit magical about the transformation from time-based/A-F structures to competency-based education.  Over and over again students, teachers, parents and administrators discover and rediscover the magic of learning.

All of it starts with creating powerful questions. We all know that our learning is shaped by how we construct questions. In fact QED Foundation includes “Question Making” within their Curiosity and Wonder rubric, one of their essential habits of learning.

Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education helps us understand the questions behind competency-based schools. The authors capture the questions the ten schools use to drive their decision-making as well as the variety of design decisions that each school makes.  For example, the questions below guide the overall design of schools, focusing on the mastery and assessment system.

  •  What are the learning targets or competencies that best represent the skills and knowledge students are expected to master?
  •  What is the relationship between the program or school’s learning targets, the Common Core State Standards, and other relevant standards? (more…)
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Two More States Moving Forward to Competency Education

January 16, 2013 by

In addition to Iowa, two other states are releasing reports regarding how their states can move forward (I’ll add the links as soon as I can):kentucky

Awarding Credit to Support Student Learning: A Report to the Governor recommends how Pennsylvania can develop credit flexibility.  It outlines parameters and principles of a credit flexibility policy to be managed at the local level. There are some interesting building blocks in Pennsylvania including Keystone exams that are required end-of course exams in high school. Competency education doesn’t require end-of-course exams but it is certainly one way to maintain quality control. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is researching an alternative flex-credit program for CTE.

The Kentucky Department of Education is releasing Competency-based Education:  Helping All Kentucky Students Succeed.  Kentucky, part of the Innovation Lab Network supported by the Council of Chief State School Officers, convened more than 150 multi-sector participants.  The report explores why competency education is valuable, highlights districts and schools moving in the direction towards competency-based models, and responds to all those frequently asked questions (a great resources for any other state or district preparing materials).

Both of these states were part of the National Governors Association’s initiative on  Awarding Credit to Support Student Learning with the support of the Mott Foundation.

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Momentum for Competency Education in Iowa

January 15, 2013 by
Sandra Dop, Iowa Dept of Education

Sandra Dop, Iowa Dept of Education

Iowa’s Competency-based Instruction Task Force has released its preliminary report.  State leadership in Iowa has been calling for competency education for over three years.  This engaging report  provides recommendations for how the state should move forward.  With a meeting being organized in June, momentum is building in Iowa.

One of the questions that comes over and over again are what are the ways we should be thinking about the metrics that could be helpful in guiding implementation and benchmarking districts and schools.  It’s a tough question and needs a thoughtful approach.  The Iowa report starts to give a glimpse at some of these process and outputs as it reviews the findings from researchers that visited the two districts charging forth on competency education, Spirit Lake and Muscatine (see Elizabeth Sturm’s post, a senior at Muscatine High).

In Muscatine researchers looked at grades, the distribution of students based on where they were on learning progressions (remediation, intensive interventions, and acceleration) and opinions of teachers.

The district and community were increasingly concerned about a graduation rate that fluctuated below the state average. Following implementation of the pilot projects, zero percent of students earned Ds or Fs in competency-based education classrooms, compared to 38 percent of all students in the 2011-12 school year. Additional data points expand the positive impact of competency-based education:

  • Six percent of the students engaged in learning contracts or short-term remediation to reach proficiency prior to the end of a term;
  • Four percent of the students needed intensive remediation, which required additional time beyond the term;
  • Three percent of the students were able to accelerate their learning through content or a course;
  • Teacher support for the methodology was rated at 85 percent, as evidenced through a district-wide survey following building presentations in the fall of 2012. (more…)
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A Student Reflection on Competency Education

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Elizabeth Sturms

The following was originally posted on The Iowa Forum on Competency-Based Education. Elizabeth Strum, a senior at Muscatine High School, reflects on competency based education in response to a question in the application for the Presidential Scholarship at University of Iowa: Tell us about an idea or an experience you have had that you found intellectually engaging. Describe specifically how the idea or experience engaged and affected you, as well as its significance.

Imagine you are given the opportunity to redesign education with no limitations. You can eliminate what no longer works to create a new education system from scratch. This may sound far-fetched, but I was blessed with this amazing opportunity toward the end of last school year when I was invited by district members as one of six students to be a part of the design team for a new methodology called competency-based education (CBE). CBE is an innovative way of educating where the primary focus is not seat time, but rather demonstration of understanding of the Iowa Core standards. My role on the design team included attending meetings during the school year and summer to voice my opinions on what was being discussed in the process of designing a plan for CBE. At the first meeting I felt reserved about CBE. I grew up in a traditional classroom so my mind was stuck there. I was stubborn about changing what I was comfortable with, but as I attended more meetings I realized the many benefits that CBE would provide, and that change in our education system was long overdue. Everything from trends to technology have evolved from my grandparents’ time to my time—even from my parents’ time to my time—but education has remained the same, which is a disservice to my generation. We are receiving an old-world education to prepare us for new-world times; however CBE is the solution to this gap in education. I am honored to be a part of this team that is enhancing and shaping my education as well as the future education of all students who attend Muscatine High School. (more…)

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Competency-Based Learning and FLVS

January 14, 2013 by

FLVS-LogoCompetency based learning has its origins in the business world. High school graduates who decide to become a barber, for example, would need specialized training in cutting hair.  They would take an assessment to verify competency before receiving a license to cut hair. In order to maintain global standing, industry and education leaders teamed up to create a description of elements for 21st century outcomes. These elements would identify those skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for our future work force to be competent in the 21st century market, much like a competency exam that a plumber, electrician, mechanic, or other trained and skilled professional would need in order to practice their profession competently. These 21st century learning skills are embedded in the Common Core State Standards as well as the focus of the work and design of Florida Virtual School (FLVS) courses.

Many examples of benchmark competency-based practices can be found in FLVS courses. These include the following:

Assessments Against Competencies

Florida Virtual School builds its courses around this concept. Courses are built with formative and summative assessments embedded throughout the course measuring the students’ competency and mastery of the standards, which are based on the 21st skills. There are three components of these assessments against competencies: self-assessment, multi-source, and assessments through other methods.

  • In the self-assessment, learners are able to manage their own mastery level, and take appropriate action to relearn skills before attempting a formal assessment.    Students are able to “own” their own learning and work on those things they actually need to do as opposed to a traditional school where a student will sit through a lesson with the rest of a class even if they don’t individually need it.
  • Multi-source assessments allow the learner to get feedback through multiple formats. With pre-tests, formative assessments throughout the lessons, and summative assessments, students receive feedback from multiple sources. In addition, Florida Virtual School teachers complete discussion based assessments in each unit of study. Teachers verbally assess for mastery before students can move on to the next module. This ensures a deeper understanding in subjects that build upon previous understandings, such as foreign languages or math.  The teacher is the gatekeeper, who only allows the students to move on when mastery is demonstrated through work products and thorough discussions. Students also have some collaborative projects which provide opportunities for students to work together and building knowledge collaboratively.
  • An assessment through other methods is the third format delineated. FLVS provides many assessment options in its courses. In Physical Education, students will actually self-monitor and report exercise logs and personal goals and benchmarks of activity. In many courses, especially in science, students perform labs and will video tape their work. Students use multiple ways to communicate to their teacher evidence of mastery.


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Upcoming Webinar on New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System

January 11, 2013 by

nhThe Alliance for Excellent Education is sponsoring a webinar on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 on Strengthening High School Teaching and Learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System

The webinar is featuring Brian Stack, Principal, Sanborn Regional High School, Sanborn Regional School District (NH), Erica Stofanak, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Coach, Rochester School District (NH) and Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Education. This webinar will examine New Hampshire’s high school redesign, which included the introduction of competency-based learning as a means to determine student progress. Ultimately, teachers and school leaders claim responsibility for the close-in work of engineering personalized learning experiences that enable students to demonstrate mastery of rigorous content knowledge and higher-order skills.

Register and submit questions for the webinar at

There are a lot of webinars coming up if you want to learn more about competency education.

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A GPS for Competency Education

January 9, 2013 by


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…)

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Getting Started

January 8, 2013 by
From Maine Ctr for Best Practices

From Maine Ctr for Best Practices

I’ve been getting increased requests from districts and schools looking for consultants or resources to help them get started in the transformation from a time-based to competency-based system.  So I’ve put together a short list of some of the resources that are available to help folks get started (and I’ll keep adding to the wiki as more resources become available). One thing to pay attention to — all the districts that I know about that are getting results were participating with the Reinventing Schools Coalition at some point.

Strategic and Action Plans

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Pre-Assessment: A Key to the ZPD

January 3, 2013 by

photo The Zone of Proximal Development is the sweet spot of education; this is where meaningful learning happens.  We all read about Vygotsky and Social Development Theory at some point in our teacher education.


The ZPD is at the core of performance-based learning, individualized learning, and customized learning. So, how many of us still keep the basic idea of the Zone of Proximal Development at the forefront of our thinking and planning for teaching and learning?  Well, when’s the last time you gave a pre-assessment and used it to plan instruction? (more…)

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