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competency-based education

5 things to help move us closer to competency-based education

Competency-based education has tons of benefits for students, but old educational models block its progress

Despite educators’ genuine enthusiasm, competency-based education may be slow to spread to U.S. schools due to sizable barriers, according to a report published Oct. 22.

The report, “Show What You Know: A Landscape Analysis of Competency-Based Education,” features an overview of the current status of competency-based education in the U.S. produced by Getting Smart and reflections from XQ on some of the more complex transition issues. The report was commissioned by XQ.

Educators are trying to meet students’ unique learning needs with competency-based models, which let students advance based on skill mastery rather than seat time.

The old and outdated education model that sorts students based on age, and that gauges achievement based on course completion and seat time, is getting in the way of educational innovation, the report argues.

So, why move to a competency-based model? In a nutshell, “the payoff includes ensuring quality preparation and readiness for all students, realizing the benefits of learning science, working toward gap-closing equity, fostering student agency, educating for broader aims, and aligning with the world of work.”

The authors find that more schools are measuring student success by competency, which can help students take responsibility for their own learning, experience deeper learning, and develop the habits of lifelong learners. And new resources and tools, including blockchain technology and machine learning, could make the path to quality easier for educators.

But the report also notes that significant challenges continue to impede widespread adoption of competency-based approaches and models. Barriers include inadequate support for teachers and students, a lack of sufficient tools and resources, and the need for more descriptive transcripts accepted by postsecondary institutions.

“Every student deserves a great high school education. And by that we mean one that engages them to become self-motivated learners, challenges them to develop complex analytical and social skills, prepares them with foundational knowledge, and inspires them to become lifelong learners. Young people will need all that, and more, to succeed in the jobs of the future and to contribute to civic life,” says Russlynn Ali, CEO of XQ. “The shift from time- to competency-based learning is one critical element of making sure that young people get what they need.”

The report is clear about both barriers to making the shift and opportunities to stimulate innovation, momentum, and impact. Recognizing the pervasive achievement gaps in our system, the report also examines mechanisms for addressing these inequities, finding that well-implemented systems of competency-based education can close opportunity gaps and improve college and career preparation for all students.

“The multidimensional shift to competency-based learning requires new experiences, supports, and structures; new teaching roles and capabilities; new assessments and reports; and new funding models and policies,” says Tom Vander Ark, Getting Smart CEO. “Shifting to demonstrated competence is well underway in corporate learning and alternative higher education, but it is complex enough that it’s likely to be a generation-long process in K-12 education.”

Five core system components can strengthen the nation’s ability to implement competency-based learning:
1. New competency-based networks and school models
2. New curriculum and assessment tools designed for competency-based learning models
3. A coherent approach to exponential technology
4. New approaches to technical barriers and design challenges
5. Continued advocacy and case studies

Getting Smart’s analysis is based on interviews with more than 50 experts and educators in K-12 schools, higher education, technology, and philanthropy; analyses of more than 40 publications and other source materials; site visits to dozens of schools; and input from numerous education research organizations.

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Laura Ascione

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