Educators are increasingly getting behind a big idea: organize learning and recognize achievement based on students’ mastery of a defined set of competencies.
Competency-based education, also known as mastery, is gaining traction among federal policy initiatives, like Race to the Top; in district innovation zones and turnaround schools; and in high-quality afterschool programs and expanded learning models.
It may sound simple, but to meet the vision of competency-based education we need to think differently about almost every aspect of our education system.
At the Competency-Based Learning Summit leaders in this field developed a working definition based on five principles:
(The Summit was sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), and MetisNet.)
Most schools currently operate around time-based structures for credit. These schools adhere to the traditional six-hour school day and nine-month school year. Students are grouped in grade levels mostly by age, learn through discipline-specific courses, and are assessed by standardized tests. These structures are not designed to support personalized learning that is sufficiently rigorous and relevant to engage all students to reach their greatest potential. Furthermore, standardized tests tell us very little about how well students are able to apply their knowledge and skills to the situations and challenges they will face in the world outside of school.
To any globally minded teacher, it quickly becomes obvious that traditional assessment practices—both classroom-based and large-scale measures—are inadequate to support the complex mix of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that comprise global competence. Global competence is based on a defined set of competencies like those described in principle 5 above. Schools that are committed to it as a goal for all students quickly realize that they must leverage a variety of learning experiences, in and out of school, to ensure that students are ready for the world.
In response, many schools, including those in Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network, are designing project- and inquiry-based learning experiences in and out of the classroom, implementing systems of performance-based assessment, and establishing proficiency-based credit.
When these types of practices and policies are in place, schools can more easily connect Common Core State Standards and other standards to the competencies that students need to be successful in the global innovation age; leverage community partnerships and “anywhere, anytime” learning experiences to expand student knowledge and skills; and award credit based on performance assessments and demonstrated mastery of the competencies.
Some of the ways to support shifts in practice among schools, afterschool, and expanded learning programs, and community partners include:
No matter where you are in the process of moving towards competency-based education, be sure to explore the emerging models, policies, and practices featured in the following resources: