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Aurora Institute

CompetencyWorks Publishes New Paper Answering the Call to Catalyze a Shared Understanding of High-Quality Competency-Based Education

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis, Katherine Casey

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Evaluate Quality

A year after education researchers and practitioners gathered to reflect on the state of competency-based education (CBE) and determined a need for a tool to guide future implementations, CompetencyWorks has answered the call with the publication of Levers and Logic Models: A Framework to Guide Research and Design of High-Quality Competency-Based Education Systems.

Levers and Logic Models is a picture of the endgame. It shares the vision for what a fully developed, high-quality, equitable competency-based education system looks like. To date, districts and schools have shifted toward CBE for varying reasons, with varying levels of capacity and with varying resources and constraints to bear. The promise of competency-based education is that it’s designed to co-construct and endow all students with the skills they will need for college, career and life. CBE leaders, therefore, have been rightfully anxious about the many differences in models throughout the country and concerned the lack of precision could lead to unintended consequences as more districts begin the journey.

In the paper, levers are the external factors and forces — independent variables — that shape the design of CBE systems and practice within them. Logic models are tools that districts and schools can control and use to clarify change efforts and to support the evaluation of effectiveness.


The essential levers in high-quality CBE systems include:

  • Outcomes — School districts are driven in large measure by graduation rates, grades and learning outcomes. CBE systems describe students as successful when they have deep academic knowledge, gain transferrable skills and develop lifelong learning skills. Moreover, CBE systems hold that each and every student can achieve this kind of success, and this broadened definition has a significant influence on the design of learning experiences in CBE systems.
  • Drivers — Drivers are likened to “learning levers” in the report. They describe bodies of research about how people learn and what is needed to promote equity. Together, they help school leaders make decisions about policy and practice to do what is right for all students.
  • Mediating Factors — These include the local community contexts in which schools operate, the demographics of the student population, historical influences, along with the current educational and political landscape. CBE systems are designed to meet students where they are, design culturally relevant learning environments and learning experiences, ensure supports that help students succeed and respond to these broader mediating factors.

The logic models presented in the report describe four interdependent levels of practice that are critical in CBE systems. They include:

  • Student Experience — What students experience in educational settings determines what and how they learn. This logic model describes the domains schools moderate in CBE systems, including design for learning, pedagogy, assessments and learning experiences.
  • Professional Practice of Educators — Teachers are learners too, but they have a profound impact on the student experience. This logic model describes professional culture, professional and pedagogical systems, instructional design, adult learning and continuous improvement. In CBE systems, teacher and student learning processes are integrally related.
  • District and School Systems — These are the policies, practices and structures that when aligned with teachers and students, create high-quality CBE systems. This logic model describes essential system elements including culture, definition of student success, systems of assessments, approaches to learning and teaching and innovation and improvement systems.
  • Culture – In this logic model, the paper presents four domains of culture that are essential for high-quality CBE systems. These include a commitment to equity, growth and empowerment, learning and inclusivity and distributed leadership and flexibility. Leaders moving toward competency education need a strong, conducive culture. But culture is created, so they should develop routines, rituals and implementation strategies that cultivate and reinforce the culture they desire to strengthen it over time.

Levers and Logic Models serves to bridge the gap between research and practice. The frameworks presented in this paper, however, are just the beginning. They represent the ideas of more than 100 national education leaders who see competency education for what it could be. The “how” of getting there requires equal attention, for teachers, schools and districts. As competency-based education gains momentum, the field would be served well by case studies diving deeper and exemplifying the levers, the four logic models and the elements described within each logic model. Logic models are tools used to conceptualize organizations, programs or strategies to bring about change and to support the evaluation of effectiveness.