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Aurora Institute

New Zealand Leads the Way on Competency-Based Learning — Part 2

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

In 2016, I was invited as an Eisenhower Fellow to the 2016 Colloquium on Competency-Based Learning and Assessment (CBLA) in New Zealand. This Colloquium explored competency-based learning and assessment systems and their impact on equity. Attendees built consensus and exchanged ideas on global education systems transformation and educational innovation for equity.

In part one of this series, I highlighted New Zealand’s educational research underpinnings, their move toward equity, how their cultural roots play a role and how a standards-based system is probably best suited to assessment for learning in real time.

Here are other takeaways from various leading New Zealand experts and thought leaders in CBLA and teacher judgment.

(K)new Approaches to Teaching and Learning

  • Mastery is levels of competency demonstrated over time.
  •  Teaching and learning focus:
    • Whanaungatanga (attaining and maintaining relationships) as a concept is a customary Māori practice enabling kin to strengthen relationships and ties between one another and entrench responsibilities as whānau (family). This is about building relationships for teaching and learning.
    • Ako – learner agency in teaching and learning practices;
    • Aro – reflective practices (including assessment, reflection and review).
  • Recognizing cultural differences in approaches to philosophy and backgrounds is important.
  • Activities for reflection include formative assessment and capturing evidence in an authentic way.
  • When we think about setting standards, we think about this is in a Māori.
  • Progressions and proficiency have evidence and judgment statements with the standards-setting bodies related to qualifications.
Assessing Literacy with ESOL and Newcomers

  • New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) works on extensive consultation on ESOL and Assessment (English learners and newcomers).
  • NZCER is finding that 1:1 support delivery that is touch-based (or especially phones they are using at home) is helpful to provide resources.
  • Videos are provided that model the kinds of assessments for qualifications and literacy to get students/learners familiar with question types.
  • Use of “both male and female voices” on the question prompts is important.
  • They end assessment when conditions are met, allowing learners to skip questions.
  • Culturally-neutral prompts and resources are key.
New Zealand’s Vocational Pathways: Relevance, Coherence, Clarity

  • The Industry Training Federation is trying to replace overly prescriptive descriptions of standards with a meaningful journey from education to employment.
  • 3/10 young people go to university but 10/10 go to work.
  • They are thinking about education as an “education to employment” journey.
  • National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) began with NCEA Level 1 and Level 2 exams, and it now includes over 2,000 standards. It’s flexible and the specific intention was to open up multiple pathways through senior secondary schools, provide flexibility in how subjects (interdisciplinary subjects) could be learned beyond school pathways.
  • Report: Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century (by Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2011).
  • They create a Lifelong Record of Learning (a student profile). The New Zealand Qualifications Authority manages lifelong learning profiles
  • Employers are asking for learners who have capacity: “teach kids to read and write; think; solve problems, sort and evaluate information; manage their time; work with others; participate; and become good citizens.”
  • Teach and recognize employability skills in education settings with badging.
  • Ministry of social development career pathways: where you are moving in assessments should be informed by standards and dictated by standards, but focused on outcomes-based assessments on unit standards (evidence).
  • The temptation to focus on unit standards shows the bureaucracy has not caught up.
Youth Guarantee Framework

  • Enhancing capacity for CBE assessment.
  • Performing research on community colleges.
  • Focusing on NCEA level 1 and 2.
  • Youth Guarantee programmes include spectrum from skill development to qualification completion.
  • More support for tutors (Academic Managers) helped to change mindsets and develop “soft skills” (employability skills).
  • Learners had a more positive learning experience and left with qualifications feeling competent (college and career-ready).
Recognition of Prior Learning: A Case Study

  • Competency International Limited (CIL) has been working on integrated assessment since 1993 (in a workplace environment); fundamentally, it isn’t how or why a learner learns, it is whether they learned.
  • Assessment is standardized to make sure it is fair.
  • The process for recognizing prior learning: profile, resource development process (pre-moderated); facilitation (know what we are expecting of them); assessment (using assessment guide); award credit (where competency has been achieved).
  • Focus on Evidence: walk-about, activities, documentation, supervisor verification.
  • Be responsible for evidence collections.
  • Show they are able to work on deadlines.
  • “It is assessment which helps us distinguish between teaching and learning.”
Trades in Education and the Impact of Technology

  • E-learning community coordinators provide on-site learning (on job sites, such as construction) for embedded learning.
  • Teacher dashboard on google apps provides collaborative space for work, documents, community groups and e-portfolios.
  • Using augmented reality (Aurasma – images) and Gamification (
  • Making it manageable with technology – Hapara powers google apps for educators.
CBT Project: Village Court Officials and Land Mediators: PNG

  • 5 phases of the project
    • Competency Framework Development
    • Competency Validation and Training Needs Analysis
    • Programme Development
    • Trainer Upskill Program
    • Pilot and Evaluation
  • Important to go through a “Day in the Life of…” Competency Framework Development
    • Activities: daily, weekly, monthly
    • Knowledge base, attitudes, skills
    • Degree of transferable skills
    • Competency validation and training

9 Conclusions

  1. Value to the learner: Compliance qualifications are not productive. Assessment should have meaning to the learner. Evidence: the ultimate value is in the eye of the end user.
  1. Equity and fairness for how people learn creates the best learning environments.
  1. Progress on mastery: Self-paced and self-driven learning where each student is a cohort of “one.” Learning is hinged on the quality of evidence of work, not by the delivery model. Knowledge, skills and employability skills/dispositions are important and should be recognized by employers, communities and society. What would happen if industry recognizes the evidence and/or micro-credentials of skills for learners indicated in a learner profile or through powerful evidence?
  1. Evidence and judgment statements with SSBs and qualifications: Cultural contexts are inside and outside formal systems. When rethinking assessments, we need to assess to align with the learning process.
  1. Building educator capacity: We need to set a high bar for quality, train assessors, invest in building educator capacity for professional judgement and comparability, and develop student capacity.
  1. System architecture for competency-based learning system: To develop assessments for learning, we need to design feedback loops and next steps. Assessment processes drive the teaching and learning systems.
  1. Focus on pathways: From secondary to tertiary education and workforce training, there should be multiple pathways of attaining competences and pathways should be aligned to what employers need and integrate across subjects, courses and domains.
  1. Learner Profiles/Student’s Record of Achievement could be a huge lever for systems change. Clear goals build learner agency and cultivate purpose. They offer options through non-linear pathways. (Picture these as learning maps or a GPS for personalized learning pathways.) We need to focus on allowing micro-credentials for knowledge, skills and dispositions within the student’s record of achievement and e-portfolio of evidence.
  1. Recognition of Prior Learning: Who can drive the recognition of prior learning? The process of recognizing prior learning includes: recognition, validation and accreditation (RVA). This is a core concept in CBLA.

Prediction: Disruption could happen by identifying mechanisms/value – such as the direct value to learners or employers and quality of evidence (micro-credentialing). How do you open multiple pathways and enable micro-credentialing?

Next steps: What barriers are in the way?  What are the solutions (i.e. funding, no limits on how fast or how far learners can go)?

CBLA Principles:

  1. Analysis of the learners (background, knowledge, skills and competence of learner upon entry).
  2. Systems support multiple pathways for learning and for assessment processes.
  3. Culture of learners taking responsibility for learning.
  4. Standards need to be outputs-focused (not inputs-focused) and provide evidence.
  5. Build a marketable identity that is recognized and valued by employers (build cultural capital).
  6. Common understanding of language.
  7. Expert assessors in assessment.
  8. How you train your assessors and support your assessors for systems continuous improvement? What systems are in place (ongoing for assessment management; support and ongoing PD for assessors; quality assurance around qualification)?

For more information, the report on the Colloquium for Competency-based Learning and Assessment in Wellington, New Zealand is online here.