How Competency Education Can Ensure Education Excellence for Every Child


Akron Alternative Academy Choices Alternative High Education and Career Advancement Center Marysville Exempted Village School District Kenowa Hills Public Schools Keifer Academy Mesa County Valley School District 51 Regional School District 2 (RSU 2) Milford High School Success Academy Lindsay Unified School District

These public schools and districts, and many more across the country, are leading the way in personalized learning. They are setting a community-wide vision and commitment to ensure every student has the knowledge, skills and mindset to succeed in college, career and life. During American Education Week, and every week, the entire KnowledgeWorks team wants to recognize and thank these districts – their leadership, teachers, principals, parents and community partners – for taking this bold action to transform their community’s education system.

As communities across the country continue to face achievement gaps, school districts and community stakeholders are challenged to connect students with the support and resources they need. We truly believe and know from experiences learned in the communities we serve, that personalized learning can bring education equity, by preventing gaps in knowledge from growing year after year, and ensuring that every student is challenged. Here’s why:

Educators are empowered to meet students where they are, and provide the individual supports and meaningful ways to assess progress.

Educators have always tried to do their best to support the needs of every child. But traditional, time-based school systems make it hard for them to give each student the support they need.

In a competency-based system (sometimes called proficiency- based, mastery or performance based ), the school culture is built around personalizing learning for the individual student. Educators have the autonomy, structure and support they need to develop creative ways to meet students where they are. And there’s more focus on understanding how a student is doing in real-time, and providing various methods to demonstrate that they’ve mastered a concept.

For example, some schools offer regular advisory periods that connect students with individual support when they need it. This could mean an extra class period a couple of times a week for students who need it, or group advisory sessions during which a student seeks out additional support. Another common approach is to make ensuring assessment readiness a standard operating procedure throughout the school. This means that before a student is assessed on a particular lesson, they must first show evidence from their learning experiences that they are ready. And they are allowed to retest, only if they have demonstrated that they’ve taken additional steps to prepare themselves.

While some students might choose to demonstrate mastery through a traditional test, others may choose to demonstrate what they’ve learned by sharing a presentation with key school staff, by writing a research paper, or collaborating with community members on a social design challenge. The emphasis is not on the type of assessment, but on the assessment of skills mastered.

The system no longer moves students through lessons and grade levels, even if they only understand 60 percent of the material.

For example, in a traditional elementary school setting, a first grader could come home with a “good grade” on her report card, leading her family to believe that she’s learned everything that she needs to know. However, even with a B in math, what her family may not be able to see is that she did really well with addition, but is still struggling with subtraction. And she’ll move on to the next lesson missing knowledge that she will need. Year after year, this creates more gaps in knowledge.

With competency education, students must demonstrate that they’ve truly mastered each standard before moving on to the next, preventing these gaps in knowledge and creating a strong foundation to build the next level of learning. As student work their way through mastering standards, as identified by their school community, the process of learning new concepts is accelerated, thanks to the strong foundation already established.

Every student is challenged to not only master each standard, but to grow beyond them and build the skills they need for college and career.

In a competency-based environment, every student has a common set of clear learning targets, and knows what they need to do to be successful. There is a culture of transparency, and the role of the educator is not just to teach the standards, but to ensure that every student reaches their full potential.

Students do more than just memorize concepts for a test. They understand why they are learning each concept, and how to use it to solve problems, think critically, work with others in real-world situations, and are empowered to do so in highly personalized ways.

Watch our video to learn more about how competency education is different from traditional education: