The Time Has Come for Competency-Based Education.

Competency-Based Education

Due to COVID-19, education in the United States has been turned on its ear, and it may be time to seriously consider the competency-based education model for K-12 and collegiate levels. For example: 

  • Students, parents, and school officials have endured sudden school closures as well as a mad scramble to convert to online learning platforms. 
  • Most states have opted to cancel high-stakes K-12 achievement tests. 
  • Several colleges are eliminating the ACT or SAT requirement for entrance in the fall. 
  • Some state departments of education are temporarily forgiving student teaching and licensure examination requirements for pre-service teachers who are slated to graduate from college this year so they can land jobs in the fall as fully certified teachers. 
  • Several schools have decided not to award letter grades of D or F but opted instead for a Credit or No Credit scale. 

Fall 2020 Faces Uncertainty

Higher education institutions such as the University of California and Harvard have already stated they likely won’t reopen the doors in the fall, with many more to decide after June 1. At the K-12 level, school district officials will strive to hold classes onsite, but the reality is that we simply don’t know what the 2020-2021 school year will look like, or for any school years in the near future for that matter. 

Status Quo No Longer Fits

Educators have structured our American way of learning to fit a time-based model. By and large, students attend classes, make passing grades, and then they move on. With a few exceptions, everyone in a class moves forward together at the same pace. Because of COVID-19, educators need to re-think how students learn and how their learning should be measured. The competency-based educational model is worth serious consideration. 

Competency-Based Education: Not Easier, Just Different

Competency-based education isn’t an easier way to learn or to earn a college degree–it’s just different. Rather than just sitting in a class and earning attendance points, learners really have to demonstrate what they know and are able to do through high-quality assessments. That approach doesn’t water-down expectations–in fact, it’s quite the opposite. 

Carefully Built on Solid Curriculum

Competency-based education is standards-based education. A house must have a solid foundation in order to stand over time. Likewise, curriculum must be based on standards. From those standards educators create competencies, learning objectives, and assessments. As industry standards change, school faculty must ensure relevancy and currency.

Competency-based education is carefully planned and developed. It is not a simple matter of schools deciding on a whim to switch to a CBE model. Faculty, administrators, and curriculum directors must give a great deal of thought and planning to the process. Simply put, it is not realistic for administrators to believe one or two faculty members can tackle a project of this magnitude. It requires systemic commitment and long-range strategic planning.

Self-Paced Learning is Essential Right Now

Self-paced learning is a cornerstone of the CBE model. Educators now acknowledge that lockstep teaching and learning does not meet the needs of individuals. This approach neglects the needs of students who are struggling, and it neglects the needs of students who have already mastered those skills and are ready to move on. One of the best aspects of competency-based education is that it is based on a self-paced learner model: Students work at their own pace, taking as much or as little time as they need to understand, apply, and demonstrate their proficiency in the stated competencies and learning objectives. Learners are less frustrated; they feel empowered and more in control of their own progress. Plus, CBE isn’t limited to a particular age group or grade level; it works equally well with elementary students as it does with those working on their doctorate. 

Competency-Based Education and Online Learning

The competency-based model lends itself well to online learning. CBE certainly can work well in traditional face-to-face learning environments. However, it can work equally well in distance learning models. There are different nuances to consider in the planning stage, but educators can build CBE to fit all learning environments. 

Assessment Quality is Paramount

The quality of a competency-based program is heavily reliant upon the quality of its assessments. In a competency-based model, learners demonstrate what they know and are able to do relative to specific learning objectives. They demonstrate this through a variety of high-quality assessments, frequently in the form of internally-created objective examinations, performance assessments, field-based assessments, and proprietary assessments. If the curriculum is the home’s foundation and instruction serves as the walls, then assessments represent the roof. 

Competency-Based Education: It’s Time to Take the Next Step. 

Competency-based education is NOT a shortcut nor an easy fix to serious school challenges during this difficult time. It’s also not a short-term solution but one that requires a long-term commitment. However, if educators design it carefully the CBE model can be a powerful way to increase student learning, achievement, and satisfaction. It’s time for them to take the next step. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                   

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: Annie Spratt

 

Teacher Preparation Programs Need to Step Up

Teacher Preparation

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, teacher preparation programs across the nation have been forced to scramble at breakneck speed to shift all their traditional face-to-face coursework to online learning platforms. That includes education methods courses, early field experiences, and even the culminating student teaching clinical experience. Problems are already starting to emerge. 

Teacher Preparation Varies from State to State

Each state’s department of education determines what is and isn’t acceptable practice during COVID-19. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) continues to work with state legislators to address clinical practice and other teacher licensure requirements during this challenging time; their website provides links to state departments of education that have revised their guidelines. In addition, AACTE maintains a repository of current research, best practice articles, and webinars for teacher preparation program staff. 

Some states have been more definitive than others when it comes to guidance for teacher preparation programs. For example, Missouri’s Governor Mike Parson waived the requirements of remaining culminating clinical experiences and internships for the spring 2020 semester. That means student teaching has been taken off the table. He also waived qualifying scores on exit exams, which includes the Performance Assessment (MEES or MPEA) and Content Assessment (MOCA) for candidates currently enrolled in a culminating student teaching or internship experience.

This means Missouri candidates in their last semester won’t have to complete student teaching and they won’t have to pass their culminating exit examinations required for state licensure. Upon graduation, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will simply issue teaching certificates to program completers based on the institution’s recommendation. 

California’s Commission on Teaching Credentialing (CTC), on the other hand, is holding the line on teacher licensing requirements in its state and provided specific guidance regarding clinical practice for pre-service teachers:

 

Teacher Preparation

 

A Real-Life Example: What Absolutely Must Be Avoided 

Someone recently sent me a video clip of an elementary education major who is now taking an education methods course online. Her professor assigned her to write a lesson plan and then teach it at home. She then had to record the lesson and submit the video for grading. Bless her heart—this young teacher candidate did her very best and I would award her an “A” for effort, but her “students” were her stuffed animals. She taught the lesson in her bedroom and was trying to teach those critters fractions. She broke them up into small groups and gave them a worksheet.

As she “circulated” around the room, she stopped beside each one and asked them questions or offered words of praise. Our teacher candidate then transitioned back to whole group work after her “students” had completed their worksheet. Shen then continued to demonstrate, question, redirect thinking, and conclude the lesson. Just before turning off the camera, I heard a quiet voice say to herself with a nervous laugh, “I’ve never felt so awkward.” 

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I sat in horror as I thought: What a poor way this is to train our future teachers. We know this is a crisis situation and colleges had to scramble quickly to move things online, but come on. Just imagine how ill-prepared this candidate may be for her student teaching. My heart breaks for her and for all those other young teacher candidates out there.

It’s Time to Step Up Your Game, Teacher Preparation Programs. 

While it’s still early, some institutions are already signaling that they may stay the course (pun intended) and put all their offerings online again in the fall 2020 semester. Teacher preparation program staff should be working diligently to make sure their candidates receive a quality educational experience in fall 2020 and beyond, despite COVID-19. That includes methods courses, field experiences, and even student teaching. Here’s how: 

Tap Into Your Partner Network 

Many P-12 schools are also teaching their students online right now and most educator preparation providers have formalized partnership agreements with at least one school district, and in some cases, multiple districts. This allows teacher candidates to complete their field experiences and student teaching in those schools. Why not allow teacher candidates to complete their field experiences or methods lessons online with “real” students? While it may not be ideal, this would be far better than “teaching” stuffed animals. 

Build New Partnerships

There are lots of K-12 online schools right now. Many are accredited and authorized to operate in multiple states. Teacher preparation program staff should consider partnering with some of those virtual elementary and secondary schools. If set up correctly, it could be a win-win. Teacher candidates could complete their field experiences with live students regardless of where they live. Practicing teachers could potentially become new graduate students enrolled in a master’s degree program. The teacher preparation program could offer virtual professional development webinars or online conferences. The possibilities are endless. 

It’s time to think outside the box because we don’t know what the future will hold. It just, however, can’t include teaching fractions to stuffed animals. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                     

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: dillydallyfarmingdale.com

CAEP Data Collection & COVID-19

CAEP Data Collection

According to the most current COVID-19 information we have, there are now almost 4 million college students in the United States whose institutions have either transitioned quickly to an online learning environment or have shut their doors entirely for several weeks. While definitely a challenging undertaking, it’s doable. Most students will be able to weave their way through the bumps in the road to successfully complete the spring semester. However, Colleges of Education faculty grapple with how to maintain quality assurance during the COVID-19 crisis. The nation’s only accrediting body recognized by the US Department of Education is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  A major aspect of CAEP’s expectations is data collection. 

CAEP Data Collection: Continuous Program Improvement

CAEP requires continuous program improvement based on ongoing data review and analysis. Institutions must look for patterns and trends over time in order to identify specific strengths and weaknesses within each teacher licensure program. Once gaps are determined, action must be taken to shore up those weaknesses. 

Continuous program improvement is dependent upon reliable data that have been harvested from valid assessments. That’s why educator preparation providers (EPPs) must select key assessments for each licensure program. They must then gather, review, and analyze data from those assessments per an established cadence or periodicity. 

CAEP’s Three Data Cycles

CAEP requires three cycles of data for analysis in preparation for an accreditation site visit. While CAEP leaves it up to each EPP to define, institutions often count one academic year as representing one cycle of data. Other institutions count a cycle as one semester. A few institutions have “rolling registrations” meaning they enroll new candidates each month. Those institutions sometimes define a cycle as being the equivalent of 8 weeks or perhaps a six-month term. Regardless, institutions must collect data regardless of circumstance–and that includes exceptional circumstances such as COVID-19.

The Dilemma COE Faculty Face with CAEP Data Collection

College of Education faculty and administrators are grappling with how to continue collecting the kind of data they need for CAEP’s continuous program improvement model. For example, what happens when local P-12 school districts close, and teacher candidates are unable to complete their required observations or early field experience requirements? Even worse, what if candidates are unable to complete their student teaching? In addition to completing required observations, reflections and lesson plan designs, what will happen if teacher candidates are unable to complete video clips of them teaching a lesson? These are all very real concerns, and faculty must come together to address them. But what are best practices in situations like this, and what should be avoided? 

Knee-Jerk Reaction #1: This is Beyond Our Control, So We’re Off the Hook

A very common reaction to situations like COVID-19 is to give in to the circumstance and throw our hands up: 

This is beyond our control, so we’re going to do nothing. Surely CAEP will understand and give us a pass. Wrong. So very wrong.

While your challenges are difficult and frustrating, keep in mind that all other Colleges of Education are experiencing the same thing. While that should bring some level of comfort, it does not come with a “free pass” from CAEP. This accreditor cannot (and should not) lower expectations, even in times like these. Why? Because like all difficult situations, this too shall pass--and those teacher candidates will eventually complete their programs and graduate. They will land their first teaching job where they will embark upon a career of shaping young lives. Will watering down teacher requirements be fair to those young students? 

Knee-Jerk Reaction #2: Just Collect Some Data–ANY Data

Some faculty will be tempted to act out of desperation to just “collect some data” for the purpose of checking a box to say they have completed their CAEP data collection requirements. It may not be useful for monitoring the quality of programs or making improvements, but it’s collected anyway just so they can have something to report for this cycle.

For example, if the local P-12 schools are shut down and candidates are unable to teach a required lesson, some faculty may go so far as to allow candidates to “teach” the lesson to their pets, or to a cooperative audience of stuffed animals. Candidates would then view their video and write a reflection of their “teaching”. Think I’m kidding? Think again.

To have candidates quickly throw together a video or complete an exercise just for the sake of checking off a box doesn’t make sense. What possible insight can candidates glean about the experience? Moreover, what insight could faculty members surmise about the strength of their program using such practices? 

A Reasoned Approach to CAEP Data Collection & COVID-19

 As experienced, highly trained educator preparation providers, we know the futility in making knee-jerk reactions, and we know CAEP will maintain high expectations. But, what’s the best approach to take? The logistics will vary from institution to institution, but here’s a rule of thumb that applies across the board: 

Any effort to collect data that doesn’t result in something useful is a wasted effort. 

We must always return to the purpose of our policies, procedures, and practices: Why are we doing this? What’s the intended end result? If the purpose is to identify strengths and weaknesses, look for patterns & trends, and make continuous program improvements, then we must make sure those policies, procedures, and practices will help us to achieve those goals. 

In challenging times, COE faculty should put their professional hats on and look at this as an opportunity for creative problem solving. They should consider other data collection methods that would yield reliable results. 

Who knows? They may be able to come up with some CAEP data collection methods that they hadn’t even thought of before. Those methods that may be far better than the ones they are using now. However, they won’t know unless they are willing to solve this problem together, as experienced, highly competent professional educators.  

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                       

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: membersuite.com