Tag: getting started

Conversations with Authors About Competency-Based Education

March 20, 2018 by

When Susan Patrick and I started working together in 2010, there was very little available literature on competency-based education. You could certainly read about Benjamin Bloom in the 1960s. There was fascinating research on the classroom approach of mastery learning in the 1980s. But there we were, 30 years later, and the only thing available was Delivering on the Promise, written by some of the educational leaders who helped develop the Chugach model. Now eight years later, books on competency education and next generation learning abound (check out this blog to see all the reports that have been written). I skim them as they are published with hopes of reading them. However, they are now piled up to my waist, waiting for me to dive in to draw out every insight I can.   (more…)

How Competency-Based Are You?

February 14, 2018 by

A few weeks ago, someone approached me because the schools they were working with wanted to know if they were competency-based or not. This question seems to be popping up more frequently as competency-based education gains popularity. If the question is based on wanting to be part of the latest education innovation, it’s a problem. Simply declaring one’s school as competency-based doesn’t have much to do with anything if we aren’t actually providing a significantly better learning experience for students.

However, if that question is actually trying to ask Am I doing it right? then we really need as a field to be providing resources that allow districts, schools and teachers to self-assess and resources that allow them to see and engage in quality. In the meantime, I think a reframing of the question might be helpful: In what way are you competency-based and which ways aren’t you? To what degree has it been implemented across your school? And are students benefiting? And if not, why not – what’s missing or has to be done with greater quality? (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

November 8, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicA Must-Read: The Hewlett Foundation Assessment for Learning Work Group released Principles for Assessment Design and Use to Support Student Autonomy.

Thought Leadership


  • This article examines the ways in which we assess students’ high school experiences and the impact this has on their eligibility for college.

Recruiting and Supporting Educators


  • The Colorado Education Initiative released a new strategy that includes Competency-Based/Personalized Learning, and states that CEI is intensifying their efforts to help districts build systems where students advance based on demonstrated readiness and educators tailor learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests.
  • Colorado’s Thompson School District is launching a “Seeing Is Believing” Tour as a type of professional learning where practitioners across 10 secondary schools work across buildings to showcase their classrooms, share success stories, and to unite as a district to do what’s best for students.The Donnell-Kay Foundation embarked on a journey across Colorado schools to examine how schools that have transitioned to a four-day school week are leveraging the fifth day. Here’s an update on their journey and learnings.



Beware of AnythingGoes-Ness and Bandwagonitis

May 25, 2017 by

It’s very clear to me that we, the field of competency education, are at a turning point in many ways. First, we have reached a place where there are lots of different organizations with enough knowledge about competency education that we are seeing very valuable reports and articles with important insights. (Just in the past week, three reports/articles were released that are worth taking the time to read, as they give a sense of some of the expansion and challenges: Competency-Based Education: Staying Shallow or Going Deep?; Policy, Pilots and the Path to Competency-Based Education: A National Landscape; and Why There’s Little Consistency in Defining Competency-Based Education.) There are other organizations – other than CompetencyWorks, that is – that are identifying and lifting up new innovators and new practices. We’ve worked hard over the past five years to support organizations and our colleagues so that whatever knowledge we were building was being transferred and embedded into other organizations. And I can really feel that it is paying off because I’m finding that I need to put time aside now to read, not just skim, many of the things being published because they are enhancing my understanding.

Second, the field is expanding at a steady pace, and with that comes a variety of new challenges. For a while, competency education was under the radar. The folks who knew about it were all leaders who had come to the same conclusion that we weren’t going to move forward if we were handcuffed to the ranking and sorting of the traditional system. Then there was growing attention as states began to introduce the idea in their innovation zones and to take the concept of college and career readiness a step further with the idea that credits and diplomas actually had to have meaning (i.e., proficiency-based diplomas). However, we are now nearing what I used to call the “fad” stage when I was a foundation program officer: People are hearing about competency education from different organizations and feel that they may want, should, or need to get on the bandwagon. In some ways, of course, this is great news but it also carries a number of new problems: (more…)

An Addition for Your Library on Competency Education

March 4, 2017 by

Lindsay Unified School District has released their book Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts Toward Personalized Learning. If you are contemplating moving toward a personalized, competency-based (Lindsay uses the term performance-based) system, you’ll want to take a look at this book. Many educators have been making their way to visit Lindsay, but not everyone has the time or can afford the travel. This book covers the basics of how Lindsay decided to move beyond the traditional system designed for sorting to one that is designed to help students learn.

You’ll find chapters on preparing for change, creating a new culture, leadership, supporting educators, and transforming teaching and learning. The book provides a strong overview on each. However be prepared to be a bit frustrated. It’s a overview, not a handbook. You’ll be left hungry for tools, details, and examples. My understanding is that with grants from Race to the Top and private foundations, Lindsay will share artifacts of their system.

I know there is a lot of frustration in the field that although Lindsay has been generous in opening up their doors, it remains somewhat difficult to get a deeper understanding of how it all works. Remember, they have been under construction (and most competency-based schools with a commitment to continuous improvement will always say that) – and their first and foremost duty is to get their performance-based system as strong as it can be on behalf of their students and community. Lindsay is building capacity to support other districts, but we should never rely on other districts to become technical assistance providers. Their students will always come first! (more…)

Are You a Newbie to CBE? This Article Is Just for You

December 14, 2016 by

competencyworks-logo1I’m receiving an increase in emails and phone calls from people who are interested in understanding competency education, its design, and how to get started. To help those of you at this early stage, here is a list of resources that can get you going. Also, if any of you have favorite resources or tools you have used in your efforts to get started (I keep thinking questions to guide discussions would be really helpful), we would love, love, love to add them to this list.

What Is Competency Education?


From the Foundation for Excellence in Education


Telling Our Story

November 9, 2016 by

I am feeling really good that we are finally filling the gap of videos that communities can use to learn about competency education and launch conversation about setting a new vision for education in their own schools.

Lindsay Unified School District has produced a 30-minute video about why we need to change from a traditional system to a performance-based system that you can use in your communities to generate conversation. The video is Superintendent Tom Rooney telling the stories of different Lindsay learners with people in the Lindsay community acting out the stories. As always, Tom speaks from his heart – even though I had heard him tell some of these stories before, several brought me to tears. In many ways, the video also helps to challenge bias that we may hold about our students and families. For example, the last story about a young man who wants to go to college even though his father’s expectations are that he would join him in the fields is told with stereotype-busting respect.


What Is Competency Education?

September 20, 2016 by

What Is CEThis is the second article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. For those of you who are new to competency education, you might want to start with this article explaining what it is. For those of you already familiar, jump to the third part of this series.

During the last few years, the phrase competency education has come into vogue. You may have heard it being used to refer to self-paced online learning or to describe innovations in higher education. This series is focused on the transformation of the time-based K–12 system where the focus is on inputs (seat-time, hours in the day, minutes in each class) to a system where the focus is on learning.

Understanding Competency Education

The power of competency education is in its system-wide infrastructure that creates the necessary feedback loops to ensure students are learning. The five-part working definition of competency education describes the elements that need to be put into place to re-engineer the education system to reliably produce student learning:

  • Students advance upon demonstrated mastery;
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students;
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students;
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs; and
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

Competency education is often described with the phrase, “Learning is constant, and time is the variable.” We know that students learn differently, requiring more or less time for different reasons. They may be at different points along the learning continuum, each with a different set of skills. Students may have different approaches to learning, with some students preferring to take more time upfront to dive more deeply into learning to master new skills or content. Certainly the levels of academic support available outside of school differ. All of these dynamics lead to students learning at different paces. However, flexible pacing, or the concept that “students advance upon mastery,” is only one of the five elements of the definition. In competency education, timely, differentiated support is equally important, as that is what allows students to continue progressing without being left behind. Teachers work with students to ensure they are filling any gaps in foundational skills, and schools provide timely support so students can get immediate help when they are struggling. (more…)

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