How 5 districts elevate learning with competency-based education

Students progress when they can demonstrate they’ve acquired a skill or met a learning standard.
By: | Issue: April 2020
March 12, 2020
(Photo: Reaching Higher NH)

A  growing number of K-12 leaders who are transitioning their districts to competency-based education, a learning model that allows students to progress only when they can demonstrate they’ve acquired a skill or met a learning standard.

These educators aren’t confident that traditional letter and number grades prove what a student has actually learned, or that a learner is ready to tackle the next unit or grade level.

Traditional methods of assessment don’t indicate preparation for colleges and careers, these leaders say.

“A student can cram and memorize facts and get 100% on an exam, but will those facts be retained in two weeks’ time?” says Superintendent Libby Bonesteel, who is shifting her district, Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools in Vermont, to competency-based education. “This should get deeper into the learning process so students hold onto what they’ve learned.”

Competency-based education can also make instruction more equitable because it should prevent students from moving up and graduating without mastering essential college and career skills, says Eliot Levine, research director at the ed tech and learning organization, the Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL).

Traditional models of education leave students with a learning deficit that forces them to take (and pay for) remedial courses in college, a situation that impacts minority students disproportionately, explains Levine, who also manages the institute’s CompetencyWorks initiative.

He also points to studies of employers, who say entry-level employees are arriving with inadequate academic knowledge and without necessary lifelong success skills. “They go into the world to find they’re really unprepared.”

Click the links below to see how four districts have transitioned to competency-based learning: