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Aurora Institute

Charting the Course for High Quality Personalized, Competency Education

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Evaluate Quality

This is the eleventh 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 Search of Efficacy: Defining the Elements of Quality in a Competency-Based Education System. 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.

At the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, we hope to advance ideas around quality in competency-based systems and lay the groundwork for what needs to happen to build high-quality personalized, competency-based systems every time. The purpose of this blog is to gather and recommend ideas for action steps to advance an understanding of high quality, personalized, competency-based systems and strategies to accelerate the design and implementation of high quality district systems and schools. We encourage you to brainstorm and prioritize recommendations for educators, school and district leaders, state and federal policymakers, funders, intermediary organizations, and technical assistance providers and any other key organizations. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

As you review the following, consider these questions:

  1. How might you change or strengthen these ideas offered below?
  2. What other projects, initiatives, or recommendations are needed to advance quality in competency-based systems and schools?
  3. Of all the projects listed here and discussed, which are the 3-5 most important ones to take on now?

A. Providing Exemplars in Each of the 4 Components of the Quality Framework (Structure, Culture, Pedagogical Philosophy, and Learning Experiences) to Support Early Stage Design and Implementation

Exemplars are essential in order to help people from across the field develop a vision of what CBE is, believe that it is viable by understanding key implementation steps, and build a sense of how competency-based education can reinforce student agency, personalized learning, and deeper learning. Even with the substantial documentation at CompetencyWorks about school models, there is a need for districts and schools to have a more close-up understanding of competency-based structures and their implications. This could include funding positions at districts with the most mature systems to coordinate site visits, funding travel for site visits, creating detailed documentation (written and video) of the models, and developing more detailed guidebooks.

B. Building a Set of Metrics and Prototype Management Reports

Monitoring proficiency, progress, growth, and depth of knowledge are critical features of a competency-based system. However, there has been little discussion within the field regarding how to use them or create management reports that can drive responsiveness to students and organizational continuous learning. Furthermore, metrics can be powerful in helping to tell the story of competency education. A project is needed to create new views into data for the staffing roles in competency-based systems; create prototypes of management reports that could be used for the multiple areas of continuous improvement; help identify patterns of inequity; and contribute to a stronger communication strategy. This project should be a multi-stakeholder one, including students and practitioners using the learning model, human-centered design experts, learning scientists, data experts, and vendors of information management systems.

C. Developing Voluntary Quality Review Process

What might a voluntary or co-designed quality review process look like? What would be the core functions? How could it be designed to strengthen transfer of knowledge, trust-building, and leadership? As an initial step, a state or a collaborative team of organizations could create a planning process and outline the core components. Furthermore, visiting or inviting educators from New Zealand and other countries to present their models and lessons learned could further understanding and interest in the United States.

D. Building a Research Agenda

There has been limited research or evaluation into competency-based systems that could help inform a better understanding of quality and effective implementation. The most important thing to do is create an initiative project in which districts co-design a research project with researchers about the impact of competency-based education on students and teachers in terms of academic learning, lifelong learning, satisfaction and engagement, and other key issues.

A second project would be to build a research agenda to inform researchers and funders in the field. What other questions need to be explored in order for us to advance competency-based education and improve quality?

(FYI, at the Summit we have a great team of researchers – Andresse St. Rose, Wendy Surr, Elena Diaz-Billelo, and Laureen Avery – who are going to help us think about what a research agenda might look like. If you have ideas please leave them in comments or email me.)

E. Clarifying and Addressing Issues in the Field

There has been confusion and competing vision in the field regarding what competency-based education is and what it means to be competency-based. It would be helpful to identify areas that need greater clarification or exploration and how this could best be accomplished. Below are some initial ideas.  

  1. What might a process look like to identify popular or common learning outcomes? How might we better define CCR in a way that strengthens competency-based systems and empowers students? How might we begin to document the different outcomes being used by districts and identify those that are the same or highly similar?
  2. What can help a district implementing competency-based education to know it is headed in the right direction? How might we engage stakeholders in this process? What are the questions they should be asking to ensure that weak structures are not being put into place?
  3. Is it helpful or viable to create performance levels that move from twelfth grade (based on common core or national standards) and up to Level 16 so there is greater alignment between K-12 and higher education at least in ELA and math? This process would need to involve community colleges, non-selective colleges, and highly selective colleges to ensure transparency of the full higher education system’s entrance expectations. This type of effort could build off the Great Schools Partnership efforts related to the proficiency pledge.
  4. We need to invest in district consortiums for collaboration and calibration and system-building. For example, pre-existing consortiums or CTE centers with multiple sending schools could act as hubs.

F. How Can Technology and Tools that Reinforce the Values and Cultures of Competency-Based Education be Implemented?

Technology can be helpful in providing the tools needed to advance competency-based education. An exploration for what tools exist for which practices, functions, and processes and how competency-based districts are using technology, what they are learning, and where there are unmet needs could be helpful. 

To explore these recommendations for advancing quality in competency-based systems, read In Search of Efficacy: Defining the Elements of Quality in a Competency-Based System.  

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