Why competency-based education de-emphasizes time

A teacher in this Vermont district gave students five options to demonstrate learning
By: | April 10, 2020
Competency-based education in one Vermont district transformed the traditional end-of-semester exam week to a “retake week” that lets students catch up.Competency-based education in one Vermont district transformed the traditional end-of-semester exam week to a “retake week” that lets students catch up. (Photo: Reaching Higher NH)

The big competency-based education shift in Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools has been de-emphasizing time as a measure of learning, Superintendent Libby Bonesteel says.

For example, instead of a traditional end-of-semester exam week, her district has a January “retake week.”

Students who haven’t reached proficiency can get additional tutoring from teachers before retaking an assessment. The district has scheduled an intervention period during each school day so students can get additional assistance from teachers.


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Montpelier-Roxbury’s middle and high school educators also have prioritized the standards and built proficiency scales. Teachers no longer give number or letter grades, but rather provide students with constant feedback based on a variety of formative assessments.

In one Latin class, for instance, the teacher gave students five options for demonstrating their learning.

“We need to get better at the formative assessment process, rather than the summative that teachers are well versed in,” Bonesteel says. “Summative is the autopsy but formative is the diagnosis.”

The state of Vermont in 2014 directed all districts to move to competency-based learning.

Parents in Bonesteel’s district were initially concerned about how their children’s competency-based work would translate to traditional college transcripts. So educators have to communicate regularly and clearly that colleges and universities now take alternative types of transcripts that can accommodate Montpelier-Roxbury’s proficiency system.

“Competency-based learning changes the conversation to learning rather than teaching,” Bonesteel says. “We’re switching our focus from what the adults are doing to what students are doing.”


Read our more stories in our competency-based education series.