Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Charting the Course for Equity in Competency Education

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

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

This is the fifth blog in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency-Based Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and how we might be able to advance the field.

By the end of the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, we hope to be able to provide guidance and/or recommendations for how we can ensure that equality is not just rhetorically at the heart of competency education, but actually producing greater achievement for historically underserved students and greater equity in terms of overall outcomes. Below are a few examples of actionable steps that are needed. It’s just a starting point – we know this needs to be strengthened.

We encourage you to share your reactions to the ideas below. What other steps can be taken? What is needed to turn them from ideas into action? Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

Design for Equity

  • Strengthen Equity Strategies in Models and Implementation:
    • School designers and technical assistance providers should be explicit about how their approach and model takes into consideration equity strategies.
    • Professional learning should provide an overview for designing personalized, competency-based structures that highlight embedding equity strategies into design. This can include school design, pedagogy, operations (scheduling and calendars), grading practices, and disciplinary policies.

Consistency and Reliability in Determining Proficiency

  • Calibration: Districts and schools should co-create mechanisms to calibrate proficiency on core academic skills and higher order skills.

Processes and Metrics

  • Information Management Systems: Information management systems need functionality around student-centered continuums of learning that capture student growth over time, depth of learning, student evidence with portfolios, and the ability to create sets of desired management reports to support short-term response to students and longer-term continuous improvement. (See Student-Centered Learning: Functional Requirements for Integrated Systems to Optimize Learning.)
  • Process Indicators: Continuous improvement often seeks to examine processes to determine effectiveness. Districts and schools should identify processes and decision-points around student learning and examine their impact on proficiency, pace, and progress.
  • Metrics: Measuring academic grade-level proficiency and the number of students below and above is essentially an on-track indicator that students are learning at a rate that will prepare them for college/career readiness by the end of twelfth grade. A project should be developed to clarify the metrics that are needed to monitor proficiency/mastery, progress, and pace. Another project is needed to clarify measurements other than academics to monitor development of lifelong learning skills. Finally, a project should be developed to examine other ways other than the GPA to predict and monitor success in college.
  • Performance-Based Assessments: The field should assess the status of the capacity for assessment literacy, including formative and performance-based assessments. Assessment literacy including the selection, development, and design for performance assessments as well as professional judgment on scoring evidence of student work with comparability, reliability, and validity are important capacities to build and strategies to develop and expand into every district and school.
  • District Capacity: Districts and educators need to be supported in building their capacity for data analytics (technology, analytic skills, managerial approaches, and communication including data visualization) to support evidence-based interventions, continuous improvement, and cost-effectiveness.


Leadership is not simply by position, it is the ability to create and sustain conditions for operationalizing a school’s core values and goals.

  • Demonstrate Respect, Build Trust, Empower Others: Create opportunities for leadership to build and receive feedback on adaptive leadership strategies. When district and school leaders used a shared vision and clear guiding principles to drive decision-making, they also open the door to empowering others to make decisions. Creating opportunity for educators and students to have input demonstrates respect for their perspectives and builds trust.
  • Hiring: School board hiring processes should include interviewing superintendents on demonstrations of addressing inequity, knowledge of equity strategies, and of improving equality within systems. Similarly, superintendents should consider the same in hiring principals. Equality starts with school boards and their commitment to hiring superintendents who have the skill and courage to identify and challenge inequity and inequitable practices. Diversity of staff should reflect that of the student population.
  • Personal Accountability for Overcoming Bias: One of the first steps leaders need to take is to become accountable for challenging their own bias. This can include undergoing race/racism awareness training, looking at problems of practice around bias and race as a team, accessing tools to challenge implicit bias, examining their own networks to ensure they reflect diversity, and performing a self-assessment on their knowledge as it relates to historically underserved students. Educators at all levels of the system should take responsibility for identifying and managing their own bias through learning, dialogue, and formal feedback. Professional learning communities can play a powerful role in helping to identify and address personal bias through data on student learning, reviewing and enriching units, and scoring student work.

Follow this blog series:

Learn more: