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Aurora Institute

Transforming the Educator Workforce: Creating Multiple, High-Quality Teacher Pathways, Developing Professional Judgment and Building Assessment Literacy

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick, Dale Frost, Maria Worthen, Natalie Truong

Issue(s): State Policy, Develop Educator Capacity

The previous blog post, What Do Teachers Need to Know and Be Able to Do to Succeed in Personalized, Competency-Based Learning Environments?, highlighted and explained the first of four essential strategies for states and school districts to transform educator workforce systems: Identifying clear, specific educator competencies needed for personalized learning environments, student-centered models and competency-based education structures.

This blog will highlight and explain three additional, critical strategies for states and school districts to transform educator workforce systems:

  • Creating multiple, high-quality pathways to educator credentials and development;
  • Developing educator capacity and professional judgment; and
  • Building an understanding of assessment literacy.

Creating Multiple, High-Quality Pathways to Educator Credentials and Development

In a competency-based system, students have multiple, high-quality pathways to high school graduation, higher education and the workforce. In the same way, educators could have multiple, high-quality competency-based pathways throughout their careers to access programs to earn credentials and micro-credentials to support building capacity, career advancement and professional development.

For pre-service training, teaching candidates can experience personalized learning opportunities to build self-regulation and efficacy skills, moving ahead through competency-based progressions with evidence of their learning. They may engage in work-based learning, internships and community-based experiences to gain the range of competencies and skills they need to meet the needs of all students. These pathways would focus on the skills required for student-centered learning models.

Teacher professional development should also be personalized and job-embedded, leveraging mentorships and positive relationships with other educators. Just like students, educators need an array of high-quality, personalized pathways to meet their unique professional learning needs.

In addition, competency-based learning can enable new staffing models and teaching roles. New roles are emerging which create expanded professional opportunities and career pathways including personalized learning coaches, learning sciences researchers, specialized learning designers (such as makerspace and STEM roles), community-connected learning coordinators and other leadership roles. Educators are taking on new roles in the design and management of student-centered learning. Policymakers, district, network and school leaders should keep these opportunities in mind as they design and implement multiple, high-quality pathways for educators.


One promising strategy for competency-based professional learning is micro-credentials. Micro-credentials are processes and tools for assessing, recognizing and credentialing key competencies. Educators can build and stack recognized micro-credentials (with evidence of their learning), enabling educator preparation, development and hiring systems to become more flexible, competency-based and relevant to systems’ and teachers’ needs.

According to Digital Promise, micro-credentials are:

  • Competency-Based: They require educators to demonstrate their competence in discrete skills in their practice — either inside or outside the classroom;
  • Personalized: Teachers select micro-credentials to pursue — based on their own needs, their students’ challenges and strengths, school goals, district priorities, or instructional shifts;
  • On-Demand: Educators can opt to explore new competencies or receive recognition for existing ones on their own time, using an agile online system to identify competencies, submit evidence, and earn micro-credentials; and
  • Shareable: Educators can share their micro-credentials across social media platforms, via email, and on blogs and résumés.

Policymakers might begin to think about how micro-credentials enable multiple, high-quality pathways for educators toward licensure and credentialing, rethinking the continuum of teacher professional learning and building capacity in educators to transform teaching and learning environments to meet the needs of every student.

Developing Educator Professional Judgment for Student-Centered Learning

In competency-based education, it is crucial that educators are empowered and have the professional expertise with systemic supports to make valid and reliable determinations of student mastery. These determinations need to be consistent across classrooms, moderated across schools and evaluated across districts, requiring policymakers to build educator capacity and transform antiquated educator development models, structures and processes.

For students to experience powerful, personalized learning, competency-based systems are structured so that learning can occur at any time, anywhere, at a variable pace and through multiple pathways. These systems depend on valid and reliable professional judgements in assessing a range of evidence to measure deeper learning using performance assessments. Clear and meaningful learning targets with rubrics on what students should know and be able to do with exemplars of evidence are crucial.

State and local education leaders need to invest in building educator capacity for assessments for learning and to exercise professional judgement in assessing student learning, effective use of data and the ability to assess a variety of evidence from learner-centered experiences in diverse environments. Building capacity for teacher professional judgment is a linchpin — a non-negotiable requirement — in the short-term and long-term, to ensure success for every student.

Building Assessment Literacy

There is a need to rethink the purpose and role of assessment in education systems. Assessment literacy, according to the New Zealand Ministry of Education, is “the possession of knowledge about the basic principles of sound assessment practice, including its terminology, the development and use of assessment methodologies and techniques, and familiarity with standards of quality in assessment,” and is essential to advancing personalized, competency-based learning. It is critical for educators to develop the professional judgment to reliably and accurately evaluate and determine student mastery in student-centered learning environments.

Assessment literacy becomes essential as systems move away from singular, overly-narrow measures of proficiency, to assessing mastery based on multiple forms of evidence using student work. Increased assessment literacy throughout the system, will increase trust, improve system quality and support new learning models that help all students succeed.

Practitioners working deeply in competency-based education quickly realize how traditional K-12 education systems lack mechanisms for calibrating the quality of judgements on proficiency levels of student work to ensure consistency across schools and systems. In competency-based education systems, calibration involves groups of educators collaborating to develop consensus around rubrics for scoring student work. The calibration process makes scoring consistent and more aligned to standards.

Professional development of educators to assess evidence of student learning, consistency developed through using moderation processes, and calibrated rubrics to evaluate performance tasks are central to transformation at scale with new systems of assessments that support personalized, competency-based education.

The New Hampshire Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) pilot provides an example of state leadership to develop educator capacity for assessment literacy, consistency and reliability. Teachers from the PACE pilot districts collaborate to develop performance tasks that will be a part of the state’s systems of assessments at statewide Quality Performance Assessment Institutes. Teacher teams score and moderate student work on performance tasks, participating in a statewide comparability workshop to ensure that scores of student work are consistent across reviewers from different school districts.

This is the thirteenth article in the Current to Future State series that explores the ideas in the iNACOL report titled: Current to Future State: Issues and Action Steps for State Policy to Support Personalized, Competency-Based Learning.

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