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Aurora Institute

Competencies Build Better Assessment Practices

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Andrew Miller

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Create Balanced Systems of Assessments

Competencies have the potential to truly shift assessment practices in the classroom. If you took a sampling of the current assessment practices, including gradebooks, you would see a variety of systems in place. From elaborate weights and point systems, to standards-based and rigorous, assessment practices run the gamut. With a competency-based assessment system, we have the opportunity to create exemplary, equitable assessment practices for our students.

Objective Targets – Competencies are hinged on targets in the content area. When designed well, they are aligned to state, national, or common core standards, and explain clearly the evidence needed to demonstrate mastery. The competency promotes evidence of learning, regardless of how the learning is shown. Because of this, students are allowed to show learning in a variety of ways, because the competency isn’t hinged on the product of learning, but rather what needs to be in that product. Teachers who use competency-based grading system must truly understand what evidence of that learning is. In other words, the target must be clear. When teachers are creating assessments, they aligned to objective targets, not subjective products. With this, we can be confident that the assessment is accurate and objective, regardless of product.

Embedded 21st Century Skills – Districts and schools across the nation, and internationally are quickly embracing 21st century skills as a critical learning partner to content standards. From critical thinking and problem solving, to communication and collaboration, these skills are transferable across content areas and learning environments. Competencies must articulated these skills, and, more importantly, thereby leverage them as crucial to the assessment process. When teachers create and plan assessments aligned to competencies they are targeting 21st century skills. They are assessing them, and including evidence of those skills as well as the content knowledge.

Freedom to Fail – Many of our current assessment practices are still anchored in antiquated grading of practice. Much of the work that occurs in the classroom is formative, intended to check progress of students, encourage differentiation, and give targeted feedback to students. Why is it often graded? I know where this comes from. As teachers, we need leverage to encourage student work, but this is the wrong way to go about it. What happens if a student does mediocre work, but then performs well on the summative assessment? When the formative is counted in the grading, then the summative, which is supposed to show mastery of competencies, is negatively impact. This is bad assessment practice. It does not reward students at their best. When we embrace Competency Based Assessment, we reward students at their best, and allow them the freedom to make mistakes and improve along the way.

As schools and districts continue to adopt competency based assessment systems, they will be forced to wrestle with old, and often inequitable assessment practices. This work has the potential to be a catalyst for assessment reform that serves all students, rewards them for rigorous work, and honors them at their best.

About the Author

Andrew K. Miller (@betamiller on Twitter) is on the National Faculty  for the Buck Institute for Education, an organization specializing in 21st century project-based learning, as well as for ASCD, providing expertise in a variety of professional development needs. He is also a regular blogger for Edutopia.