Replace ‘seat time’ with competency, report says


  • Require districts to offer competency-based credits so that students have competency-based options, such as alternative schools and credit recovery;
  • Provide support mechanisms, because education leaders will need opportunities to work with their colleagues or technical assistance providers to create competencies, train teachers, and establish information management systems;
  • Establish quality-control mechanisms to safeguard equity and to ensure that higher expectations for student learning are not compromised. States will want to design rubrics and formative evaluations, and provide supporting tools and resources such as examples of student work at each proficiency level;
  • Expand learning options in the community, after schools, and online; and
  • Align higher education with K-12 competency-based efforts through teacher training, college admissions, and streamlining budgets to support accelerated learning.

Recommendations: Super hero

As forward-thinking states begin their adoption of competency-based learning standards, there are a number of opportunities that arise—for example, using the Common Core State Standards to eliminate seat-time requirements.

Here are the advanced recommendations from the report:

  1. Redefine the Carnegie Unit into competencies: With the Common Core, states now have the opportunity to use competencies as the organizing unit, rather than the time-based Carnegie Unit. States can do this by creating more modular units of learning by redefining the Carnegie Unit with competencies; facilitating collaborative efforts to implement the Common Core standards and develop competencies with precise learning objectives, including academic and lifelong competencies; and establishing mechanisms to protect fidelity to higher expectations.
  2. Support personalized learning: Create a personalized learning plan for every student; incentivize anytime, anywhere learning; and allow students to earn full or partial credit by demonstrating mastery on skills learned in class, online, and outside of school.
  3. Design student-centered accountability and assessment models: Create more individual student growth models; move from once-a year, end-of-year testing regimes to modularized testing throughout the year that measures individual student progress on a regular basis; strive for summative tests to be taken at the point students have mastered coursework and competencies by increasing the frequency of state-required exit exams and on-demand testing opportunities for students; ensure that age-based policies are not written into accountability laws at the state level for accountability; and include assessments that are based on performance, portfolios, and work samples that demonstrate mastery of complex knowledge and skills.
  4. Empower learning with technology: Design information systems to support students and teachers; design accountability using formative and summative data that are validated from the ground up; integrate tech systems, including digital learning, that allow student performance data to flow seamlessly between learning management systems (LMS), content management systems (CMS), assessment systems, and student information systems (SIS); create meaningful dashboards or reports that display data graphically to support teachers, parents, and students in managing progress; expand online learning and blended learning; and support open architecture and open educational resources.
  5. Support educators: Increase flexibility in staffing, while restructuring the role of the educator; partner with educator associations and unions to explore the possibilities in a competency-based system; upgrade PD policies and programming to respond to the specific needs of educators and students within a competency-based system; redefine “highly-qualified teachers” as “highly effective educators” and ensure that the definition is not tied to time-based systems; and facilitate upgrading teacher education.
  6. Reconsider financing: Incentivize high-quality, competency-based learning models by rewarding schools and districts that are most effectively serving traditionally underserved students; streamline funding within K-20 education so that students can advance to higher-level courses, even while remaining in school; modularize courses so that schools serving highly mobile students can receive proportional funding for student progress and so that students can receive proportional credit for modules they have mastered.

The report also gives advice on how states can work together to build their visions of competency-based learning, and it notes what steps the federal government can take in aiding these goals. It includes individual case studies of what some forward-thinking states have done as well.

“The discussion in this paper is only the beginning in shaping next generation state policy to support a new range of competency-based learning,” the report’s authors conclude. “States will need to work together, building on each other’s advancements and experiences in developing competency-based learning.”

Meris Stansbury

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