At one point in my journey of understanding about competency-based education, I questioned whether we really needed competencies. Wasn’t it okay just to have standards? Paul Leather helped me understand the value of competencies by asking What would the system look like if we had a blank slate? Would we really want standards to be the defining way to think about expectations for students?
- Of course we would want something more meaningful to students and their families than the lists and lists of standards.
- Of course we would want something more high level that could be used to organize standards in meaningful ways.
- Of course we want to talk about competencies beyond academic domains.
Thus, it became clear to me that we definitely do want to use competencies as a high level organizing structure that can be used to determine if students really are building the skills they need for life. It pushes us to include competencies beyond academic domains that we know are important for transferring knowledge and for lifelong learning. It also pushes us toward deeper learning.
However, it does still seem absolutely fine for districts and schools to start the transition to competency-based education using standards (as District 51 has done) with the assumption that over time folks will want to take a step back and think about the competencies they want to include in their graduate profile.
I’ve started to collect some different examples of competencies (based on who has made them available on the web). They vary in terms of how much attention there is to academic domains as well as the cross-curricular competencies that are related to transferable skills and lifelong learning. They vary in how much they focus on competencies or making meaning out of the standards. And they vary in how much they approach students wholistically.
- New Hampshire has academic competencies (8 math, 9 ELA, and 8 cross-cutting science) and 4 work study competencies. Sanborn Regional School District has made their competencies and standards available.
- Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria has 10 outcome targets such as discern, argue, and be precise. The content is used for student learning but doesn’t drive the learning. This is amazing, as they are based in NY with the archaic Regent exams that expect every student to know Byzantine history.
- Bronx Arena has 5 clusters of competencies: thinking, literacy, numeracy, expression, self & community. (See page 9.)
- Waukesha STEM Academy, a middle school, has organized a learner continuum that range from level 4- 12…because that is how much their student skill levels range. It’s worth watching the video on their learner continuum on this page.
- EPIC Schools were designed as a model that had African-American young men at the center. They have a very wholistic model that takes into account youth development and academics with 19 competencies and 66 attainments. (See page 36.)
- Building 21 is a school designed to support students no matter what their previous educational experience. They too have a strong youth development approach. They describe competencies and performance levels:
A competency (1) is structured as a grouping of related skills (2) that cumulatively serve as a measure of a learner’s level of competence. Performance level descriptors (3) along a continuum help describe how each skill becomes more sophisticated as it develops toward mastery (4). Based on our most recent analysis, Level 10 represents “college ready” work and “Level 12” on our continuum represents “college-level” work.
I love this distinction of college-ready and college-level work. I definitely think that the last two years of high school need to include making sure students can actually do college level work. This idea of graduating and then taking remediation has just got to go.
- Great Schools Partnership has exemplars of how to organize standards with grade level performance indicators. They understand that schools are in general operating with grade level standards. There does seem to be an interest in multi-age bands which will likely trigger schools to start thinking about performance levels (based on what students know and can do) more than grade levels (based on age).
- Marzano Research Labs has pulled together the Critical Concepts (but it’s not available freely on the web), as we all know we have too many standards if we really want our students to have a chance to go deep, explore, and discover.
Redesign has a Competency Adoption Guide that can help you make sense of the process. Rose Colby’s book Competency-Based Education: A New Architecture for K-12 Schooling has a chapter that walks you through a process as well.
Do you have a set of competencies that you would like to share? Please send them to me at chris (at) metisnet (dot) net. We’d love to make a range of examples accessible so that districts and schools can get a sense of the landscape before designing their own.