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Aurora Institute

Validating Competence with Wild Pigs in the Woods…

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Justin Ballou

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

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 10.19.09 AMWith the school year coming to an end, I have begun the yearly practice of reflecting upon all that has occurred in and out of the classroom. This past week, I have been following along with the conversation around Iowa’s Competency-based workshop through Twitter. Although I was not able to attend, it was great to see the conversations as well as the feedback on the presentations helping to push competency-based education further in active environments.

As I continue to see this grow in both my home state of New Hampshire as well as other forward thinking states, I have begun to think more about the structures of these systems and how we can show student competence. If the ultimate goal is to have our students both college and career ready, then how is it we can validate that student learning has occurred?

In the process of reflection, I was brought back to a statement that my high school math teacher, Mr. Restuccia, used to consistently say. When confronted with a problem, and we could spit out the answer, he would state the claim, “Even a wild pig will find strawberries in the woods sometimes.” Although frustrating as a student, his statement was true to the fact that, just because we had the answer, didn’t mean that we truly understood the concepts or how to use the information.

Fast forward to the present, and I see this as one of the statements that should be remembered as we look at how we assess and validate competence for our current students. Below are a couple of ideas that I would like to offer up for discussion, as we look further into this in the near futur

1. How many assessments can validate competence? If we have a competency that a student is being assessed in, is there a magic number that can be used in order to help validate that a student’s mastery understanding is there? Can it be universal for all students?

2. How many different assessors should there be for a competency? Similar to the first point, I have been brainstorming: Should we want a wide array of experts assessing in each competency so that the validation of competence has a “360” view of the students mastery?

3. When we assess a student’s competence, what is the best way to show the understanding a student has attained? Do educators allow retakes after feedback so that students can achieve mastery on a case-by-case basis? Do you average the consistencies in reporting student understanding that paints a picture of the student’s mastery? An example of this would be using four assessments with a grade of 3, 4, 4, and 3, (on a 4-point scale, which, depending upon how you grade, equals an 87.5%, [14/16]), or the same reporting back that gives you an average of 3.5 on the 4-point scale.

As we progress down the road to competency-based education, I am hopeful that we will start to see some of the questions above answered. It is the only way that we can make sure that our students thrive (as opposed to just survive) in the environments that they are progressing toward!

Justin Ballou is a high-school social studies teacher in New Hampshire. Besides teaching, he is active building/running an education startup called Socrademy, several business ventures, and enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife. With competency-based systems, edtech, and authentic learning as his go-to topics, you can reach him at [email protected] to ask questions or leave comments, and follow him on twitter (@socrademy).