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Aurora Institute

CompetencyWorks Releases New Report on Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Chris Sturgis

Issues: Issues in Practice, Commit to Equity, Evaluate Quality


CompetencyWorks released a new report titled, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education, and the ideas within it offer a resource for the field at a critical time in its evolution.

This publication seeks to advance K-12 competency education along four key issues: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy.

  • Equity: The vision for educational equity is a thriving, fair and just system. How can competency-based systems of education directly address the history of bias, bigotry, discrimination and oppression that has shaped our institutions, including our K-12 education system, and realize educational equity?
  • Quality: Attention to quality is essential for competency-based cultures and structures to realize their promise for students. What are the most important guiding principles or features that competency-based schools must have in place in order to deliver a high quality educational experience?
  • Meeting Students Where They Are: High-quality systems of competency-based education anchor learning in relationships. They start with an expectation that educators draw upon professional knowledge to select strategies based upon an understanding of their students as individuals, adapting as needed to personalize the learning pathway towards common high expectations. What do schools and educators need to consider in order to engage and teach students that are all at different points along the learning continuum and in different stages of their development of lifelong learning skills?
  • Policy: This section surfaces ideas that state policy needs to address in the long-term to create the conditions for a transformation to competency-based education systems designed to ensure equity so all students can be truly ready for success. We share our thinking around threshold concepts, which are core concepts that once understood are needed to transform a subject, that state policymakers might think about addressing for a long-term, sustainable shift to personalized, competency-based learning.

As the field of competency-based education expands, so have innovations in the field. Schools are refining and strengthening their models, introducing new ideas, and discovering new entry points:   

  • For those new to competency-based education, this paper offers an introduction to the culture and structure for learning and understanding how it differs from traditional education, in concrete, actionable ways.
  • For those already engaged deeply in competency-based structures, we hope this paper provides opportunities to deepen your work and fosters a collective effort to move the entire field forward.

The number of schools and districts implementing competency-based models has steadily increased over the past few years. There are many reasons why districts turn to competency education, including lifting the ceiling on learning so that students can excel beyond their grade levels; ensuring students are building higher order skills; opening up more opportunities for students to learn any place, any time; and, responding to demographic changes. As with any innovation, as it scales, it often changes. This change has provided us with deeper knowledge and new ideas. It has also provided opportunity to understand the critical issues emerging within the field. During this time, we have had the opportunity to visit a wide variety of schools operating in an ever-growing set of contexts. Through our conversations with practitioners, ongoing research and observations, we have identified a set of key issues that warrant attention. Getting these four key issues right will enable competency-based education to continue to scale with quality, and be sustained over the long term.

It is critical to ensure that competency-based structures result in high-quality equitable systems that are responsive to students and support them to realize high achievement, no matter where they start or the pathway they pursue. Building a true system of competency-based education for the long-term will require all of us to work together as leaders. Failure to do so presents the risk that competency-based education is not sustained and/or that inequity is allowed to continue in which some students are not supported in ways that allow them to realize their own potential. As examples of competency-based education proliferate, far too many have developed without attention to some or all of these four key issues. For example, some schools have adopted the structures but failed to fully attend to culture. Others may have implemented new practices, such as standards-based grading, but did not change assessments or adopt systems to ensure consistency across classrooms.

This paper makes the case for why attending to all four key issues matter (quality, equity, meeting students where they are, and policy), how they relate to each other, and offers ideas for how to approach each one. It begins with an exploration of the intended purpose of public education today. That purpose then grounds a discussion of four key issues. Each issue will be explored in more detail in a separate paper, blogs and other resources to be released over the next few months.

Leaders in competency-based systems today likely find themselves within a continuum of having addressed each of these issues. This paper offers a systems-level view that we hope helps organize these key issues and make transparent their relationship to each other. While our body of knowledge and experience about implementation of high-quality competency-based systems is building as more districts go forward with competency-based education systems, new entry points and pathways to implementation will continue to be explored.

Download the full report here.

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