What’s Under the Hood: Major Components of Competency-Based Educational Programs

This is the second installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education. In the first blog, I provided a basic overview of what competency-based education is, why I started using it with my own students, and other terms it’s frequently known by. Feel free to reach out to me if you have additional questions or need support implementing CBE in your school.

Regardless of whether you work in a P-12 school or at a higher education institution, there are six major pillars that anchor a solid competency-based education program:

  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Assessment
  • Faculty Training & Support
  • Parent/Caregiver Orientation & Support (for P-12 Schools)
  • Student Orientation & Support (for all learner levels)

 

A strong, healthy CBE program must be built on these pillars, which makes preparation, planning, and collaboration extremely important. All six should be tied directly to the school’s mission and vision, and they should all be connected to each other to avoid a disjointed program.

I recommend using a backwards design model when developing your own competency-based education program—in other words, create a well-defined “picture” of what you want to accomplish—what is your final goal? What does success look like in your school? How would that be defined? Once you and your team know what you want to accomplish, you can start working backward from there and build out each of those six components.

Installment #3 of this series will focus on developing curriculum in a competency-based education program.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

 

There IS a Better Way to Teach & Learn: It’s Competency-Based Education

This is the first installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education; feel free to reach out to me if you have additional questions or need support implementing CBE in your school.

I was a teacher for many years (elementary, middle, secondary) and while I loved working with my students, I sometimes felt as though I was constantly walking around in a darkened room looking for the light switch. I was completely committed to helping my students learn and to achieve their goals—I just wasn’t completely sure how to go about it. I found myself trying all sorts of methods with mixed levels of success, and what made it even harder was that there was never another teacher or principal in my building who could mentor and guide me to a better way of teaching. I knew creating a single lesson plan and teaching to the middle wasn’t effective—even though it was the way I was taught, and it was the way I was trained in my teaching prep program. Under that approach, I felt as though I was throwing spaghetti on the wall hoping something would stick, at least for those students in the middle of the bulls eye. Unless I got really lucky with my aim, those learning at the lowest and highest ends of the continuum rarely had their needs met. It’s not easy to admit, but it’s the truth. I experimented with my own version of individualized learning, but it was so limited in scope that I saw only limited results. However, despite the additional work and time required on my part, I felt excited and encouraged because I could see the impact those efforts were having on my students.

Later I tried project-based learning, and liked it. I enjoyed the notion of students being able to select their own topics of personal interest and to a certain extent driving their own learning. I used this primarily with gifted students but after three years concluded that individualized, project-based learning should be provided to students of all ability levels. It was only in the past few years that I was able to put a name with the approach I came to believe in and adopt as my personal teaching philosophy—it was competency-based education (CBE), which I’ve learned is also frequently referred to as: personalized learning, proficiency learning, performance-based learning, mastery learning, outcomes-based learning, or authentic learning.

Regardless what it is called, the bottom line is that in a CBE classroom:

  • Students demonstrate what they know and are able to do.
  • Expectations are measurable & clearly defined.
  • What students learn is more important than seat time.
  • Teachers serve as mentors or learning coaches to support student learning.
  • Instructional decisions are data-driven.

 

Installment #2 of this series will focus on the major components of a competency-based educational program.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

 

True Workforce-Driven Teacher Preparation

The State University of New York (SUNY) board of trustees has recently indicated its willingness to explore innovative, alternative methods of training and certifying its teachers–at least in its charter schools. According to an article in the New York Times, the primary intent of the move is to help alleviate some of the supply and demand challenges facing charter schools in that state–many schools are finding it increasingly difficult to attract, hire, and retain high-quality teachers, particularly in areas that have been identified as shortage areas for several years: math, science, special education, and English language learning. In some states, charter school teachers are paid less than those in traditional public schools because the state funding formulas are different–thereby making it even more challenging to create and maintain a stable workforce.

While there has already been some push back from traditional preparation programs, from teachers’ unions, and the like, at least this approval demonstrates an acknowledgement that (1) there is a problem with teacher supply and demand, and (2) that it will only continue to worsen if something isn’t done.

However,  the details of the proposed plan should be very carefully thought out before rolling it out–it appears as though there are some who want to craft a prep program that could actually reduce the quality of preparation–which could prove to be disastrous not only for students enrolled in those schools but for all charters nationwide that want to take the same approach in their own states. If this initiative isn’t successful, it will likely shut down any possibility of charters in other locations certifying their own teachers.

As an experienced teacher educator I have no problem with trying this approach–if done well it could be a truly workforce-driven model to be emulated across the nation. Let’s just make very sure though that it is carefully thought out ahead of time, and that we track its impact in order to make solid data-driven decisions.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

Personalized Learning Models: Not as Easy as It Sounds

This article focuses on some work supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York called Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success.  With a goal of helping to increase the graduation rate of high schoolers and prepare them for the workforce, the project focused on experimenting with various types of innovative school designs in urban schools. While innovation can vary across models, the project’s founders concluded that there are 10 integrated principles that are indicators of effective high schools:

  • Integrates positive youth development to optimize student engagement & effort
  • Develops & deploys collective strengths
  • Empowers & supports students through key transitions into & beyond high school
  • Manages school operations efficiently & effectively
  • Remains porous & connected
  • Prioritizes mastery of rigorous standards aligned to college & career readiness
  • Has a clear mission & coherent culture
  • Maintains an effective human capital strategy aligned with school model & priorities
  • Personalizes student learning to meet student needs
  • Continuously improves its operations & model

The study focused on small schools that adopted various personalized learning models, which are often also referred to as mastery learning, proficiency learning, or competency-based learning.

As indicators of the project’s success, researchers focused mainly on a couple of metrics:

  • Calculation of four-year and six-year high school graduation and dropout rates
  • Distribution of entering high school students by NAEP math scores, grade level, and number of years of a 1.25x teacher needed

Current data suggest an improvement in graduation rates of students whose school participated in one of the innovative designs focusing on personalized learning and less on the traditional model using the Common Core Standards. In addition, not surprisingly those students starting out the farthest behind need the support of more teachers for a longer period of time.

After talking with students, teachers, and school leaders, researchers concluded a continued need for professional development training, high-quality instructional materials, and better communication. In short, personalized learning is not as easy as it sounds—there are many moving parts and an effective system is birthed from a comprehensive, cohesive systems design.

While interesting, the report is just a starting point—a springboard for further conversation, experimentation, data collection, and reflection. There are many more ways in which to triangulate valuable data, and we need to track the success of this project over time in order to determine its efficacy.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

Source: RAND study provides early lessons on personalized learning model | Education Dive

Competency-Based Education Resources for P-12 School Districts

Source Annotated Comments
US Department of Education Provides a working definition of CBE as well as information about specific states and school districts that have piloted the CBE model.
The Glossary of Education Reform Provides a good overview of the CBE model particularly in the context of P-12.
Missouri Learning Standards Provides a roadmap for what all students should know and be able to do at each grade level.
Creating High-Quality Assessments Adapted from the CAEP Evaluation Framework, this document provides a checklist for educators to use when creating their own performance-based assessments.
Competency-Based Education Toolkit Provides a lot of very useful, practical information for school districts interested in creating their own CBE framework.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Rubric This rubric serves as a great springboard for conversation about assessment criteria, performance indicators, levels of competency, etc. Use it with teachers, parents, and students.
CompetencyWorks: Learning from the Cutting Edge A good source for various aspects of CBE.

 

If your school is interested in piloting the CBE model and needs additional support, please contact: 

  • Roberta Ross-Fisher, PhD (globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com)
  • Twitter: @RRossFisher
  • LinkedIn: Roberta Ross-Fisher