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Aurora Institute

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Natalie Slocum

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

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMDiane Ravitch critiques competency education in her blog. In an email, Chris Sturgis notes, “Ravitch clearly is one of the people who is using the phrase competency-based education to refer to adaptive software.  I’ve just finished a tour of six school districts in Maine to learn about their progress in making the transition to competency-based education and their focus is on ensuring that students are successful in learning skills and being able to apply them. These schools are focusing on providing supports to students, improving instruction and building their assessment literacy. Their focus is on building the capacity of the instructional team to meet the needs of students. Adaptive software is just one of the many tools they can use as a supplemental resource for students that can benefit from differentiated instruction, rapid feedback and may need more time to build their skills. Ravitch has enormous knowledge of the education system and has the courage to admit mistakes. However, in this case Ravitch seems to be confused about the different strands of next generation learning. Perhaps we should invite her to do a site visit with CompetencyWorks?” See Ravitch’s blog here.

Movement in the States

  • The University of Maine at Farmington will begin a four-course graduate education certification in Proficiency Based Education (PBE) in January through University College and Rockland—in response to a need expressed by practicing educators. The first course will begin in January and is being offered fully online.
  • The New Hampshire Coalition for Business & Education, formed by business, education and philanthropic leaders, was developed to improve education in New Hampshire. Recently, the first NH Leadership Summit engaged senior management from New Hampshire businesses and elected officials on how to address the state’s most critical economic issues.
  • Melrose Public Schools is the first district in Massachusetts to consider transitioning to competency education. They are holding a forum, followed by a Q&A session on December 3, and on December 8, the School Committee will decide if they will create a Task Force to research and propose an action plan for implementing competency education.
  • Maine’s Bonny Eagle High School, in its transition to a proficiency-based education system, is no longer administering end-of-year cumulative final exams, opting instead for end-of-unit summative assessments. Several Maine school districts are developing their own standards to align with state requirements for proficiency-based education, including ways to assess student learning.

Thought Leadership

  • Michael F. Shaughnessy interviewed Bob Sornson, the founder of the Early Learning Foundation, on the merits and differences of competency education, equity issues, examples and challenges.
  • Former classroom teacher Terry Heick explores the difference between teacher-centered and learner-driven classrooms. He explains how teachers should be participants and co-designers, while students should be designers, advocates and entrepreneurs.
  • NewTech Network pilots demonstrate that performance assessments focused on college readiness and built around project-based learning can lead to rapid improvement in teacher understanding of student critical thinking abilities.


  • In November, the RAND Corporation released Continued Progress: Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning, which is the second report in a series focused on achievement data, school design characteristics, and teacher and student perceptions of schools implementing personalized learning.
  • The Performance Assessment Resource Bank is an online collection of high-quality performance tasks and resources that support the use of performance assessment for meaningful learning. Resources include performance tasks, professional development tools, and examples of how schools, districts, and states have integrated performance assessment into their systems of assessment. These resources have been collected from educators and organizations across the United States and reviewed by experts in the field.
  • Jobs for the Future released The Implication of Deeper Learning for Adolescent Immigrants and English Language Learners as part of the Students at the Center: Deeper Learning Research Series.  In this report, Patricia Gándara argues that students who are immigrants and/or English language learners often exhibit strengths that monolingual, non-immigrant children may not have, and which policymakers should view as important assets to be cultivated.
  • Jobs for the Future and the Council of Chief State School Officers co-published Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Teaching, which provides a framework for educators in four domains: cognitive, intrapersonal, interpersonal and instructional.

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