Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Is the Creation of Competencies Unnecessary Work?

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Josh Griffith

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction

Josh GriffithWhat is a competency?  Many people say competencies are what students are to know and be able to do.  If that’s the case, don’t we already have competencies in the Common Core standards?  The standards in the Common Core are what every student is to know and be able to do.  Why are we creating something new by grouping the standards and benchmarks from the Common Core differently?  I have heard a lot of people mention within their blogs and on Twitter the importance of personalizing the learning.  I have also heard that competencies are to be a higher-level than standards and more enduring.  If we begin to group all of the standards and benchmarks from the Core for our students, are we making the system more rigid and allowing for less personalization?

Here’s an idea…  What if we allowed our students to group the standards and benchmarks in a way that makes sense to them, fits their personal interests, and supports their vision of their future?  They would all still have to show they were competent in the entire Core and take the designated number of electives set out by each district.  If given the freedom, and support, would our students build a better learning system for themselves than we could ever think of on our own?  I know that’s a scary thought.  It means teachers must give up control and become “facilitators” of each student’s learning.  It means students would no longer act as passive recipients of knowledge and instead would need to take more control to become active and engaged advocates of their learning.  I believe students would amaze us and create competencies for themselves after grouping standards together in a way that makes sense to them.  I’m not suggesting we do this for students starting in pre-school.  What I am suggesting is that we release this control to the students over time as they become mature enough for it.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, there is no way we can give up all control to our students.  I would definitely have to agree with you.  We as facilitators of learning are the experts and still have a lot of control.  Here are some of the things we would still have control of:

  1. What students are to know and be able to do.  The Common Core Standards are non-negotiable and for electives there are national standards for just about every course.
  2. What it means to be competent in each of the standards and benchmarks of the Core and national standards. We are the experts and know exactly what it means to know and be able to do each of the standards.
  3. What projects for students are approved.  In a system like the one briefly outlined above, students would need a process for writing proposals for proving competence in each of the standards and benchmarks.  The facilitator would review these proposals and have the right to approve them, or offer suggestions for what the learner needed to improve in the proposal to meet the standards he/she is working towards. The learner would then have the right to agree to these, or offer other ideas on how they could meet it.  It isn’t until both the learner and facilitator agree, that the learner can be guaranteed an approved process for proving competence in the standards and benchmarks they set out to learn.

The time has come; technology has finally reached a point that supports personalized learning for a much larger number of students.  Let’s quit making it more complicated by doing unnecessary work in the re-grouping of standards into competencies.  I believe these are the questions that we need to be answering when talking about competency-based education, which is what all teachers should be answering each and every day when they plan their lessons anyhow.

  • What does it mean for a student to be competent in the standard or benchmark, (how will I know they are competent in it)?
  • What are all of the different methods in which I can assess it, (could be different for each learner)?
  • How do my learners best learn, (again, could be different for each learner)?
  • What resources are needed to support the learning?

If we can answer these questions, the only thing left to do is to release some control and allow the learners to begin grouping the standards in ways that make sense to them and their interests.  We all know that we learn best when we can see how it applies to our futures and interests.  Imagine the level of engagement if we allow our learners the freedom to make this happen.  Let’s use the Core to define what all students are to know and be able to do and start the real work of releasing more ownership over to the learners themselves.

Josh Griffith is principal at Middle/High School at Collins-Maxwell Community School District in Iowa. Josh started off his career as a math teacher where he taught high school mathematics at Hoover High School in Des Moines Iowa. According to Josh, “It was here that I began to experiment with proficiency based learning. It became clear to me that this was not enough and that the current system didn’t allow it to become what I wanted or felt students needed. Last year I completed my masters degree for educational leadership through Viterbo and I am now the principal of the Collins-Maxwell 6-12 building. I am passionate about personalized learning and creating a system that will support the needs of every individual within it. I am also a husband and father of two girls and enjoy every second I get with the three of them. I hope that I am able to create a working system of personalized learning in time for my two girls to experience the benefits of it.” You can read more from Josh here