Briefing Papers

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What Is Competency-Based Education? An Updated Definition

Levine and Patrick, November 2019

This report provides an updated of competency-based education. It also includes a set of belief statements, answers to frequently asked questions, and a brief discussion of common misconceptions about competency-based education.

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Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education

Casey, November 2018

This report is about re-envisioning professional practice, learning and development for competency-based education. The research describes how engaging educators in new roles and shared leadership for the paradigm shift from traditional to competency-based education.

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Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education

by Sturgis and Casey, October 2018

This book offers 16 Quality Design Principles to guide the development of competency-based learning with the goal of creating a system in which every student succeeds.

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Levers and Logic Models: A Framework to Guide Research and Design of High-Quality Competency-Based Education Systems

by Sturgis and Casey, May 2018

This report uses logic model frameworks to convey relationships between essential levers (outcomes, drivers and mediating factors) that inform the design of competency-based education systems and critical components of competency-based practice at four interdependent levels (student experience, professional practice of educators, district and school systems and culture).

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Meeting Students Where They Are

by Rudenstine, Schaef, Bacallao and Hakani, May 2018

This report explores how K-12 competency-based schools and districts can more effectively meet students where they are, fully preparing students for success in college, career and life.

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Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed

by Sturgis and Casey, April 2018

This report offers equity strategies for personalized, competency-based education to ensure a more equitable K-12 education system.

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Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education

by Patrick, Worthen, Frost and Truong, January 2018

This report shares strategies for policy to support systems change over the long haul toward competency-based systems that ensure mastery and success for all students. 

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Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education

by Lopez, Patrick and Sturgis, October 2017

This report seeks to advance K-12 competency education along four key issues: quality, equity, meeting students where they are, and policy, and charts the course for the next wave of innovation and expansion in the field.

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Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England

by Sturgis, October 2016

This paper explores K-12 competency-based education policy and practice across five New England states: Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. It illuminates the core concepts of competency education, detailing the limitations of the traditional system, and how competency education is designed explicitly for equity and student success.

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1. The Every Student Succeeds Act: A Catalyst for Competency Education at Scale?
2. What Is Competency Education?
3. A Look at Competency Education in New England
4. What Can We Learn About State Level Strategies from the New England States?

Download individual state profiles:

1. Connecticut: Making Room for Innovation
2. Massachusetts: Home of the Early Innovators
3. Maine: Making the Most of High-Leverage Strategies
4. New Hampshire: Building an Integrated Competency-Based System
5. Rhode Island: Putting Together the Pieces of a Competency-Based System
6. Vermont: Comprehensive Policies of Personalization and Proficiency-Based Learning

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Map: A Snapshot of K-12 Competency Education Policy

This map offers a snapshot of competency-based education state policy across the United States. Categories include: advanced states, developing states, emerging states, Innovation Lab Network states, and states with no policies in competency education.

Updated May 2018.

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Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System

by Sturgis, March 2016

This paper explores how Chugach School District in Anchorage, Alaska shifted from a traditional school system to a personalized, performance-based system that deeply values students and teachers.

Chugach School District (CSD) first implemented competency education over twenty years ago, paving the way in developing a system founded on student advancement upon demonstrated mastery. This case study explores how CSD created the infrastructure to support a performance-based system, expanding learning beyond the classroom, embracing the culture of the community and developing educator growth.

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Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders

by Sturgis, June 2015

This paper seeks to pull together the district implementation strategies currently being used to convert traditional systems into personalized, competency-based ones. Findings are based on interviews and site visits conducted over the past five years as well as the knowledge shared at CompetencyWorks by leaders in the field. The districts showcased in the paper represent just a handful of all the districts converting to competency education, as there are a hundred or more that have also begun the journey to competency education.
This report is also available in four excerpts, each based on a stage of implementation:

1. Ramping Up for Transformation (Web) (Print)

2. Designing the Infrastructure for Learning (Web) (Print)

3. Transitioning to a Competency-Based System (Web) (Print)

4. Embracing Continuous Improvement (Web) (Print)

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Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning: Insights from Experts

by Patrick and Sturgis, March 2015

In May 2014, CompetencyWorks brought together twenty-three technical assistance providers to examine their catalytic role in implementing next generation learning models, share each other’s knowledge and expertise about blended learning and competency education, and discuss next steps to move the field forward with a focus on equity and quality. Our strategy maintains that by building the knowledge and networks of technical assistance providers, these groups can play an even more catalytic role in advancing the field. The objective of the convening was to help educate and level set the understanding of competency education and its design elements, as well as to build knowledge about using blended learning modalities within competency-based environments. This paper attempts to draw together the wide-ranging conversations from the convening to provide background knowledge for educators to understand what it will take to transform from traditional to personalized, competency-based systems that take full advantage of blended learning.

Introductory Resources on Competency Education

September 2014

As competency education expands across the country, more people are seeking to understand what it is, how to implement it, and how to revise policies to better support learning and student achievement. CompetencyWorks has prepared three introductory materials that can be shared with your stakeholders. These resources are licensed under Creative Commons so that you may copy and distribute the material as well as adapt it to your needs. We just ask that you attribute credit reflecting that it is based on original materials from CompetencyWorks.
Understanding Competency Education in K-12 (Web) (Print)

Aligning K-12 State Policy with Competency Education (Web) (Print)

Aligning K-12 Federal Policy with Competency Education (Web) (Print)

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An International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad

by Bristow and Patrick, October 2014

An International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad highlights components of competency education in international practice, to inform US policymakers and decision makers seeking to implement high-quality competency pathways at the state or local level. The report includes a brief lesson in the international vocabulary of competency education and explores practices in Finland, British Columbia (Canada), New Zealand and Scotland.

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A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change

by Worthen and Pace, February 2014

Providing federal policymakers with a comprehensive vision for supporting state and local efforts to implement student-centered learning, A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change describes barriers and opportunities within federal education policy frameworks and identifies how the federal government is in a unique position to catalyze and scale student-centered learning approaches.

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Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education

by Chris Sturgis, January 2014

Progress and Proficiency was written to help education leaders think through how to design grading policies that communicate academic performance to students and parents. As more schools and districts begin to develop competency-based pathways that allow students to progress based on demonstrated mastery of content knowledge and skills rather than just time spent in a classroom, it is imperative that they rethink their grading systems around competency. More resources on competency-based grading can be found on the Competency-Based Pathways Wiki.

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Necessary for Success: Building Mastery of World-Class Skills – A State Policymakers Guide to Competency Education

by Patrick and Sturgis, February 2013

An opportunity for state leaders to reflect upon the efforts of contemporaries around the country, Necessary for Success shares insights into re-engineering the policy and practices of our K-12 systems; introduces the main concepts behind competency-based learning; studies important initial steps taken by states in introducing this emerging model; and considers creating a culture of competency within state agencies. You can find more resources on the Competency-Based Pathways Wiki.

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Re-Engineering Information Technology: Design Considerations for Competency Education

by Liz Glowa, February 2013

Re-Engineering Information Technology: Design Considerations for Competency Education analyzes and examines components and elements of effective competency-based information systems. Based on interviews and research, the ideas in Re-Engineering Information Technology build upon the lessons learned in analyzing information systems developed by competency education innovators, best practices of systemic approaches to information management, and emerging opportunities. The paper is designed for readers to find those issues that are of most interest to them in their role and be used to catalyze strategies, support new competency-based instructional models, and inform decision making for continuous improvement. You can find more resources on the Competency-Based Pathways Wiki.

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The Learning Edge: Supporting Student Success in a Competency-Based Learning Environment

by Shubilla and Sturgis, December 2012

The Learning Edge: Supporting Student Success in a Competency-Based Learning Environment delves into the fourth element of the definition of competency education: Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. Understanding how to structure supports is important because learning in a competency-based environment means that students and adults are often on the edge of their comfort zone and competence — the learning edge. In this paper you will learn how innovators are designing school culture, embedding supports and organizing resources to ensure students are progressing and on pace. You can find more resources on the Competency-Based Pathways Wiki.

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The Art and Science of Designing Competencies

by Chris Sturgis, August 2012

The first in a series of Issue Briefs, The Art and Science of Designing Competencies brings together insights from a number of leading practitioners from around the country. Listen to the voices of innovators as they share their insights and lessons learned on how to build powerful competencies, engage teachers, and integrate lifelong learning competencies. Be sure to check out the companion resources on the Competency-Based Pathways Wiki.

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It’s Not a Matter of Time: Highlights from the 2011 Competency-Based Summit

by Sturgis, Patrick and Pittenger, July 2011

The It’s Not a Matter of Time paper highlights the key issues from the proceedings at the March 2011 Competency-Based Learning Summit for advancing competency-based learning. A five-part working definition is introduced to drive innovations toward high quality educational experiences for students.

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Cracking the Code: Synchronizing Policy and Practice for Performance-Based Learning

by Patrick and Sturgis, July 2011

The report sets a policy framework for advancing performance-based learning and builds on recommendations made during the 2011 Competency-Based Learning Summit convened by iNACOL and CCSSO. The report recommends that states begin to transform policies from “rigid compliance” to “enabling policies,” by offering seat-time waivers or “credit flex” policies that allow for the flexibility to offer competency-based learning in K-12. The policy development is multi-stage — building towards a “comprehensive policy redesign” that would require school districts to offer competency-based credits; provide proper training and information systems; establish quality-control; and align higher education with K-12 competency-based efforts.

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Clearing the Path: Creating Innovation Space for Serving Over-age, Under-credited Students in Competency-based Pathways

by Sturgis, Rath, Weisstein and Patrick, December 2010

This paper provides guidance on creating competency-based approaches for over-age, under-credited students that have fallen off the track toward graduation. Drawing on a wide range of expertise, this paper explores how states can create space for innovation, including design principles, minimum policy conditions and options for moving forward.

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When Success is the Only Option: Designing Competency-based Pathways for Next Generation Learning

by Sturgis and Patrick, November 2010

This paper is an introduction to competency-based pathways, a necessary condition to realizing the potential of next generation learning. The most important finding from this investigation is that competency-based pathways are a re-engineering of our education system around learning — a re-engineering designed for success in which failure is no longer an option. This paper is the first of the series. The following papers produced in 2011 (above) provide a much more detailed exploration into policy and practice for competency-based learning.

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