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Aurora Institute

Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Evaluate Quality

This blog was originally posted on CompetencyWorks on October 11, 2018. 

iNACOL and CompetencyWorks released the book Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education. This book, which started out as a paper and expanded into a primer on competency education with the help of Katherine Casey, completes the collection of papers developed as part of the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education.

These six Summit papers seek to provide insights and guidance on how we can address four of the tough issues challenging the advancement of competency education: quality, equity, meeting students where they are (as compared to delivering grade-level curriculum), and developing a system to support competency-based schools. The CBE Summit series taps into cutting-edge knowledge, having been developed in collaboration with people in schools implementing competency education, technical assistance providers, and researchers. In fact, in Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education, you can listen to the voices of educators throughout the paper as they share their reflections and insights.

Tips for Making the Most of Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education

As you prepare to read Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education, please consider that the first section introduces competency education and the second introduces sixteen design principles to set you on a course to developing a high quality system. Both of the sections are organized so that you can turn the text into discussion or self-assessment tools.

Here are a few examples of how you can use the paper. Considering using the section on:

  • Flaws of the traditional system to take an inventory of your own school. What are examples of these patterns in your school, and what are the implications for different sets of students?
  • Distinguishing features as a framework to build out a vision for your school. Using the ten features, you could begin to brainstorm and collect ideas from other schools you visit or read about in an effort to answer the question, “How might we design a school in which every student is learning, progressing, able to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world problems, successful in attaining the skills needed for life after high school, and discovering their potential?”
  • Student experiences as a quick survey to find out how your students feel about the quality of the educational experience they are receiving.
  • Design principles as a discussion tool with your team. Read the principles one at a time and explore ways in which your practices are consistent with (or not) or could be enhanced. Be sure to reflect when there are inconsistencies about the reasons you do them so you can better uncover the core values and assumptions with which you are operating. Or take two principles and discuss what the implications are when you begin to integrate them into a systemic approach. My recommendation: Always start with the learning sciences in Principle #6. We offer a summary of cognitive and psychological research. Ask your team where they agree or don’t agree. Are there other research findings that should be added upon which you can build a common pedagogical philosophy? It’s likely you will have a healthy conversation about beliefs about how students learn and how to motivate students.

My final thought about how to use Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education is that you take the stance that your approach and practices are not high quality. Take the stance of an “urgent learner.” Ask the question, How do we know that this practice is really working for students to help them learn and to help teachers be the most effective in reaching every student?” Don’t assume that if you have changed grading practices, it means it is effectively helping students to become better learners. Ask the question whether it is working better for students (and how you know it is) and, if not, what else you need to have in place. It’s possible you have one piece that by itself is inadequate but when integrated with a number of other practices could be come powerful.

We are all likely to believe that in doing our best we are also doing the best job possible. But that isn’t necessarily so. We have to go beyond doing “our best” to doing what is best for students. We are verging on a quality crisis with too many schools implementing based on a narrow understanding of competency-based education with highly problematic practices. Even our leading districts know that they need to do more, do it better, and do it consistently throughout the school. Our hope that the Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education will help us discover our own potential to create responsive, highly effective, highly reliable schools that enable each and every student to discover their potential.