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Aurora Institute

Charleston, South Carolina: Balancing Competency Education with Student-Centered Culture

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

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

CCSDI’m on my way to Charleston School District in South Carolina today after great site visits to Lake County in Florida and Red Bank Elementary in Lexington, SC. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see competency education growing with a deep grounding in personalized learning and student agency. After I finish getting everything I learned in Maine and Philly written up, I’ll be sharing everything about this trip through the Southeast.

However, I just have to share Charleston’s description of personalized learning right now because it is so strong. For those who work in the online learning world, I hope that you will think about this carefully because when a school embraces this philosophy, online learning can be easily integrated as a powerful tool to support personalized learning, but not as the source of personalized learning itself.

Personalized Learning in Charleston County School District is built upon the concepts of Competency-Based Instruction and a Self-Directed Learning environment.


Competency-Based Instruction

  • Students have an effective teacher who meets them where they are, fills their learning gaps and accelerates learning
  • Data, rather than seat time, is used to determine when a student is ready to move to the next concept
  • Students work with their teacher to revisit standards that haven’t been mastered
  • Students produce evidence of learning to determine proficiency
  • Learning is transparent for all students. They know what they have learned, what they are currently learning and what they will learn next
  • Students take responsibility for their learning, thereby increasing their engagement and motivation
  • Frequent formative assessments drive instruction; summative assessments are given when a student is ready
  • Focus is on student learning, not on test scores or grades
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support and feedback based on their individual learning needs and formative data


Self-Directed Learning


  • Show ownership of learning through setting goals and choosing activities to reach these goals
  • Participate in the classroom visioning process through having a voice in how their class operates
  • Articulate their learning gaps
  • Extend their learning by applying learning in new contexts and learning beyond the curriculum
  • Formulate questions and generate their own inquiries
  • Plan and manage their workload and time effectively and efficiently
  • Reflect on their learning and use feedback to improve their schoolwork
  • Exercise choice in their learning pathways
  • Track their data on a daily basis
  • Take responsibility for their behavior

Their handout is much more visually powerful, as the educational philosophy is balanced with the student-centered culture.

Gotta run to get to Goodwin Elementary School to start my visit! More later.