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Aurora Institute

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

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


Early Progress: Interim Research on Personalized Learning was released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rand Corporation last week. They define personalized learning as, “Systems and approaches that accelerate and deepen student learning by tailoring instruction to eachstudent’s individual needs, skills, and interests.Students have a variety of rich learning experiences that collectively will prepare them for success in thecollege and career of their choice. Teachers play an integral role by designing and managing the learning environment, leading instruction, and providing students with expert guidance and support to help them take increasing ownership of their learning.” At the iNACOL Symposium last week Vicki Phillips introduced a four part operational definition (you can find it on Ed Week) that includes competency-based progressions, flexible learning environments, personal learning paths, and learner profiles.

So You Think You Want to innovate? Emerging Lessons for State and District Leaders Working to Build a Culture of Innovation by 2Revolutions and The Learning Accelerator is a toolkit for district and state leaders.

An Up-Close Look at Student-Centered Math Teaching released by the he Nellie Mae Education Foundation finds that students in more student-centered math classrooms are more highly engaged in what they are learning and show growth on problem-solving skills, as compared to students in less student-centered classrooms. Led by researchers Dr. Kirk Walters and Toni M. Smith, the study also finds that:

  • Nearly all highly regarded teachers employ student-centered practices at times.
  • Student-centered math instruction allows for strong student contribution, encourages active student exploration, uses problems that require students to think critically and communicate their thinking, and asks students to explain the “why” of their answers.
  • Students in math classrooms led by highly regarded teachers feel very positively about their teacher and the class. Students with highly regarded teachers who implement the most student-centered approaches to math instruction report that they find the content more interesting and meaningful than their peers.
  • Students in more student-centered math classrooms report being more engaged in learning and in how interested they are in the material, compared to students in less student-centered classrooms.
  • Students in more student-centered math classrooms had higher scores on a test of problem-solving skills than students in less student-centered classrooms.

Lighting the Path to Personalized Learning: Inspiring Stories from Next Gen Schools produced by Getting Smart in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges highlights 11 schools.

News and Blogs

Summit Friends Facebook to Expand Personalized Learning Platform isn’t waiting for the ed tech market to figure out what schools need. They are building their own personal learning platform.

The Competent Traveler looks at competency education for virtual high schools.

Twenty-Five Districts Worth Visiting compiled by Tom Vander Ark, Getting Smart.

Other Great Resources

Digital Promise Now has created a web page on competency-based education.  On the site you will find the beginning of a new way of defining competency-based education: At its core, competency-based education…

  • Focuses on student growth.
  • Gives students ownership of their learning.
  • Personalizes learning to meets students’ social, emotional, and academic needs.
  • Equips students with the skills and knowledge necessary for college, and for a lifetime.

Digital Promise Now isn’t stopping there, they are asking educators to share their definition of competency-based education. It’s great that DPN is crowd-sourcing the definnition.  CompetencyWorks developed its working definition with the guidance of 100 innovators several years ago (here is link to detailed definition). As our knowledge has grown about what it means to be competency-based I think we’ll see a different emphasis. I’m betting student ownership as being an essential element.

Ten Pathways for Transforming Learning: Innovating Toward a Vibrant Learning Ecosystem was released by KnowledgeWorks.

A Study on Praise and Mindsets is a short (and very well done) video highlighting some of the research on fixed and growth mindsets by Carol Dweck and her colleagues. You might want to listen to Dr. Dweck’s discussion on not yet in The Power of Yet.