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Aurora Institute

Study of Competency-Based Education Practices and Noncognitive Student Outcomes

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Catherine Bitter

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

Catherine Bitter
Catherine Bitter

American Institutes for Research (AIR), in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), is conducting a new study on the implementation and outcomes of competency-based education (CBE). The study, supported by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, aims to increase our understanding of CBE practices and their effects on student outcomes that are considered critical for college and career readiness, including self-efficacy, self-regulation, and motivation to learn. This study’s other major contribution to the field will be a set of survey instruments that measure practices and structures associated with CBE implementation. The study will take place in high schools from three states participating in CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network.

This study consists of two components. For the first component, AIR will develop, validate, and administer surveys for principals, teachers, and students about CBE practices and structures. CBE practices vary widely, and may include different aspects of self-pacing, personalized learning, and skills mastery. The survey data will therefore be used to describe and develop a typology of the practices employed by a variety of schools implementing CBE. The study team anticipates that researchers can also use these instruments in future studies of the impacts of CBE, including examinations of postsecondary success.

For the second component of the project, AIR will examine the relationship between exposure to CBE practices and changes in what are termed “noncognitive” outcomes during students’ first year of high school, relative to similar students who did not attend schools focused on CBE. The study team will measure these outcomes through student surveys administered to Grade 9 students in the fall and spring of 2014-15. AIR also will explore whether the relationship between exposure to CBE practices and changes in noncognitive outcomes is stronger for at-risk students (i.e., students with lower levels of prior achievement or students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch).  The survey of noncognitive factors has been created from pre-validated item sets and addresses those outcomes that are most aligned with the goals of CBE, including academic mindsets and dispositions such as sense of competence, intrinsic motivation, growth mindset, and aspirations; self-regulated learning strategies such as self-regulation, cognitive strategy use, and academic perseverance; and academic behaviors such as preparation/organization, work habits, and engagement.

The study team has spent this spring and summer recruiting 10 schools with a strong focus on CBE and 10 schools with similar students that are less focused on CBE for the study.  They will administer the pre- and post- surveys of noncognitive factors to students in a subset of schools this upcoming school year.  Surveys of CBE practices will be administered to teachers, principals, and students in all pairs of schools in spring 2015.  The final report for the study will be completed in December 2015.


Catherine Bitter is a senior research analyst at the American Institutes for Research. She has worked on studies of school and district policies and reforms, including an in-depth study of deeper learning approaches in high schools and studies of districtwide reform efforts in San Diego and NYC.