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Aurora Institute

5 Reasons Why Competency Education Can Lead Us to Improved Quality and More Equity

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Commit to Equity

Post 8Ensuring quality and equity is as the heart of the movement to transform education toward personalized, competency-based learning. By placing the student at the center of the learning process and re-engineering around learning, pace and progress (rather than time, curriculum delivery and sorting), we can create education systems that reach every student.

Competency education is a design strategy that best serves our lowest achieving students, including low-income students, minority students, English language learners, and those with special educational needs. Here are five reasons why:

  1. Competency education is designed to identify and address gaps in knowledge and skills. We will always have students with gaps in knowledge, whether because of poverty-induced mobility, recent immigration, military transfers, or health issues. When we identify and address gaps, students have a better chance at progressing. As Paul Leather, NH’s Deputy Commissioner of Education, has pointed out, “We learn by connecting concepts and building expertise over time. If we do not learn a concept, new learning cannot be built on it” (from Necessary for Success).
  2. Transparency and modularization are empowering and motivating. They are the ingredients for student ownership. Success begets success, as students see short-term gains and clearly marked next steps. Transparency also challenges bias and stereotypes that may contribute to lower achievement.
  3. The focus on progress and pace requires schools and teachers to respond to students when they need help, rather than letting them endure an entire semester or year of failure. Many competency-based schools organize flex hours during the day to make sure there is no excuse for students going home without receiving the help they need.
  4. Competency education is a comprehensive approach that benefits vulnerable students as well as those in gifted and talented programs. Schools don’t need specialized programs that label students. In fact, students may advance in some disciplines and not in others, as flexibility is built into the core school operations.
  5. Competency education creates powerful learners. We can’t underestimate what student ownership means in the hands of students who have been denied a high quality education in the past. Furthermore, it prepares students to explore their talents, interests, and the future that lies before them. Instead of differentiating students with a single number, their GPA, we see children differentiated by how they demonstrate and apply their knowledge.

Will competency education eliminate inequity? Will the achievement gap suddenly disappear? Of course not, given the economic inequality corroding our communities. Competency education will help students who currently are passed along to acquire fundamental skills.

Competency education is not going to have all the answers, and it is certainly going to have its own unintended consequences. It is an essential step, however, in moving beyond our history of exclusion, sorting and tracking. Through competency education, we can discard the fixed mindset of yesteryear and embrace the growth mindset that is necessary for eradicating inequity.

How do you purposefully and intentionally design for equity? Consider becoming a guest blogger and sharing your insights and thought leadership on this important topic. You can also reach us in the comments below or on twitter (@nacol).

This blog post concludes our series on confronting issues of equity in personalized, competency-based and blended learning. Refer back to the series for more:

  • Blog 1 in series: Addressing Equity Issues in Personalized, Competency-Based and Blended Learning
  • Blog 2: How Competency Education Drives Equity
  • Blog 3: Addressing Misconceptions in Competency Education
  • Blog 4: Tackling Issues of Equity in Personalized Learning
  • Blog 5: 6 Ways to Eliminate Attribution Error on the Path to Equity in Competency-Based Systems
  • Blog 6 in series: 8 Ways Blended Districts Can Implement a Competency-Based Structure
  • Blog 7: Time Matters: How We Use Flexible Time to Design Higher and Deeper Learning

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