By Erik Day and Michelle Berkeley

Competency-based education (CBE) is currently seen as both an innovative approach to focusing on student mastery, and as a compelling shift to a definition of learning wherein milestones are learning-based rather than time-based.

We will soon be part of a panel at the iNACOL Symposium that will focus on competency-based education, and will also be part of a release of a forthcoming report on the topic.

We plan to highlight the current state of CBE, the opportunities for growth, and our recommendations for impact opportunities in the systematic development of a competency-based approach to education. We believe that supporting all stakeholders is key for providing structure in the midst of any systemic shift. In the case of CBE, this means targeted supports must be in place for all, and at all levels.

“Disruptive innovation can be a very good thing, but it must be undertaken with careful attention to the actual needs of students, educators, and schools,” our upcoming report finds.

Below, we will share a brief selection of our findings regarding the supports needed for schools, educators the students as they make the transition to CBE, highlighting a specific impact opportunity at each respective level. Our full findings will be released in mid-October.

  • Schools: enhance and scale competency-based networks of schools,
  • Teachers: promote competency-based education teacher preparation and professional learning, and
  • Students: promote an integrated approach to academic, social and emotional development of students.

Schools

At the school level, there is a need and an opportunity to enhance and scale competency-based school networks. There are a few ways in which this impact opportunity can be put into action, but we believe it would be most beneficial to specifically focus efforts on learning model updates to and scaling of existing networks.

It would be most advantageous to start by scaling high-performing and substantially competency-focused schools and networks. We have identified a number of model schools, one of which is MC2 Charter School (for more, keep an eye out for our upcoming whitepaper). This high-performing school represents an established environment operating for over 10 years (MC2). One model district to note is Lindsay Unified School District. From Lindsay, we learned about the strategic pillars through which the district was able to form a CBE-focused environment: shared culture with common practices and language, stakeholder buy-in to the vision, and student agency at the core of all operations.

In order for enhancements to take place, there must also be continued support for new school development. There are currently a number of research and advocacy organizations making strides for the CBE cause, including iNACOL, Great Schools Partnership, JFF (Jobs for the Future), EDUCAUSE, NGLC, KnowledgeWorks, CASEL, and more.

Educators

As we hone in on opportunities at the individual educator level, we believe a major change factor lies in the way in which teachers are prepared initially and on an ongoing basis. If we believe we can develop and shift school atmospheres, we must also believe we can develop and change educator approaches and mindsets towards CBE.

A great source of guidance into promoting competency-based education teacher preparation and professional learning is a formal review of the set of educator competencies for personalized, learner-centered teaching developed by Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and Jobs for the Future (JFF).

One such practice that has proven successful in aiding teacher understanding of CBE is the use of a micro-credentialing system. Micro-credentialing at the educator level mirrors the expectations of what CBE is intended to do at the student-level–provide a degree of voice and choice in learning and demonstrate growth relevant and important to the individual, in this case a teacher.

Students

One of the impact opportunities we discovered specifically related to students themselves is through the several areas in which whole-student support can be provided. Perhaps the most effective way to provide the complex, multifaceted support CBE students need is to take an integrated approach to academic, social, and emotional development. This starts with agreeing upon terminology of work-ready and SEL skills, then establishing best practices for how to measure them and incorporate them into academic curriculum.

Regarding work-ready skills, there are major leaders in the calibration of nomenclature. Notably, Partnership for 21st Century Skills and EdLeader21 together advocate for the 4Cs–collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking–through the development of rubrics and assessment strategies intended to be integrated into teaching and learning systems. At the same time, organizations like CASEL are working to universalize social-emotional learning (SEL) competencies (see CASEL’s Core SEL Competencies) including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

The next step becomes the establishment of best practices when it comes to measurement and assessment. It’s difficult to assess non-academic skills (and it’s particularly difficult–and important to do so fairly in systems that include traditionally underserved or low-performing high schools), but our findings ultimately provided hope that by researching and analyzing the practices of some forerunners in the SEL assessment arena, with time, new tools can and will improve accuracy and reliability of measurement.

Stay Tuned

It is safe to say the opportunities for improvement and impact in CBE are complex. Fortunately, it is also clear that there are many players ready to support the cause in their own ways. And if one thing is clear, all stakeholders must be supported in the process of expanding CBE.

To focus on schools, educators and students highlights just three broad areas of impact. Stay tuned for more clarity as we holistically explore these and other opportunities for impact in our upcoming presentation and report release.

For more, see:

Michelle Berkeley is a project coordinator for Getting Smart and a Clinical Counseling Intern at City Colleges of Chicago-Olive-Harvey College.


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