The rigors of an interconnected, global society have changed the way in which schools need to approach student success. In previous generations, the “organize and sort” method, typified by an A-F grading scale, was the most thorough manner of assessing students given the lack of unifying systems that could track and chart specific skill development.
But times have changed. In the last 10 years, a school’s ability to dig deep into the specific skill sets of students and provide meaningful information about their strengths and challenges has grown dramatically. Through competency-based education, we can now provide more relevant, personal assessment for each student and use that assessment to truly develop an equitable model of student success—as long as we are willing to accept innovation.
Of course, for schools to make the jump to competency-based education, they must adjust their pedagogy and learning systems in a manner that emphasizes student-centered and human-centric learning practices. If the data that competency-based education provides is used as simply a greater and more robust means of sorting out “winners and losers,” then the many benefits—from personalized instruction to equitable classroom models—go out the window. We must adjust our own collective sense of meaningful pedagogy in concert with the change in technology to take advantage of what we’re capable of doing now and steer it in a manner that benefits kids.
So what school-wide practices support true competency-based education?
1. Human-to-human relationships
Competency-based learning requires a much closer relationship between student and teachers. When a student feels seen and understood by an adult, their ability to engage in the intricacies of a competency-based program increases exponentially.
At Bennett Day Upper School in Chicago, we’ve incorporated a robust advisory program, including 60-minute daily meetings and home visits, so that every teacher has a relationship with their students that goes above and beyond the typical connection. This allows that teacher to both help a student determine a relevant path to obtaining competencies while simultaneously providing accountability for students that doesn’t seem punitive.
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