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How Power Indicators Help Measure Success in Personalized, Competency-Based Learning Implementation

December 5, 2023

By: Gregory Seaton

Personalized, competency-based learning has emerged as a promising system transformation strategy to pursue inclusive and equitable outcomes in school systems. Personalized, competency­-based learning centers each student’s strengths, needs and interests and provides differentiated supports and ways to demonstrate what they know and know how to do.

These transformed learning systems will: 

  • Produce equitable, future-ready learning outcomes for students in our core states,
    reducing and eliminating predictable differences in achievement due to race, income,
    learning ability and language 
  • Respond to the needs, assets and interests of each student 
  • Equip learners with the tools, readiness and access necessary for postsecondary success 
  • Be resilient, transparent and nimble 

As school systems implement personalized, competency-based learning strategies, they need access to data that provides information regarding their implementation progress as well as summative data that speak to the overall impact. In our journey to develop and improve equity-driven, user-friendly measures to understand the progress and impact of personalized, competency-based teaching and learning, we’ve learned a few things. 

We track and report on personalized, competency-based learning implementation progress across a wide variety of measures. So much data can be overwhelming, particularly for those who are doing the day-to-day work of school systems, but it’s not just data for data’s sake. These data are shared with stakeholders as part of action planning and continuous quality improvement processes.

To maximize the power of data as indicators of systems transformation, we developed power indicators that include systems transformation, equitable outcomes, agency and engagement. These power indicators are high-level areas necessary to achieve the kinds of impact we and our partners seek. They are research-based, measurable and help demonstrate that change is occurring with the kind of depth and reach that can tip systems toward sustainable transformation at scale.

  • The systems transformation power indicator looks at work across a state- and district level toward a sustainable personalized, competency-based learning system, with appropriate supports in place
  • The equitable outcomes indicator focuses on how both the policies and systems in place to ensure historically marginalized yet resilient learners have resources to close gaps and also that all students are showing progress on measures of success
  • The agency power indicator emphasizes student educator agency, as well as the cultural and policy shifts needed to support that agency
  • The engagement power indicator looks at reach across learners, educators and leaders, the levels of commitment to the work and if necessary mindset shifts are occurring

The role of the research advisory committee

As we retool systems of education to be more equitable, the need for making data more accessible is imperative. A diverse research advisory committee, deeply rooted in the principles of equity, can become a voice for systems transformation. By highlighting the importance of data, pushing for data to be presented in easily understandable formats and advocating for widespread availability, this committee champions and represents a more democratic approach to gathering and using information.

In our case, we had a research advisory committee working with the power indicators to address the nuanced needs of a broad group of education stakeholders, while developing scientifically sound and accessible metrics for the scaling of personalized, competency-based learning. It’s a collective effort, ensuring that insights gained are not confined to academic circles but are readily available for everyone involved in the education system’s transformation journey. It’s about giving every stakeholder, from parents to educators, access to the data they need to actively participate in creating an equitable education system.

It's about giving every stakeholder, from parents to educators, access to the data they need to actively participate in creating an equitable education system.

Defensible and accessible data

One of the tensions that our research advisory committee addressed was the need for the measures to be grounded in social science best practices, but also to make sure that the metrics did not perpetuate inequity due to inaccessibility or other factors.  The most vulnerable communities deserve and require the best that social science has to offer. However, this often means the use of statistical methods and procedures that do not easily lend themselves to the use of broad, non-researcher stakeholders. The research advisory committee addressed this tension in three ways:

  • Develop a deep understanding of existing survey data
  • Using different types of data (e.g. survey data observation notes, and field-based tools) to better understand and translate the statistical findings
  • Test what the data says with key stakeholders

The goal is to make data calculations methodologically defensible yet easily to understand.

Bets, measures and expectations

When conducting systems change work, it is important to be clear about your bets: what are your if-then statements? If we do “X,” then we expect “Y” to occur as a result. What are you betting that X will change in Y? While KnowledgeWorks and our partners have place big bets on the promise of personalized, competency-based education, the role of scaling throughout the systems often goes underrecognized.

The research advisory committee helped us become clearer about our bets. In essence, we are betting that the more that district and policy conditions are optimized for scaling personalized, competency-based learning, the better educational systems can address the interests and needs of learners. We expect to see improvement in learner and educator agency and self -efficacy. And while we believe that personalized, competency-based learning can benefit all students, we particularly believe that the explicit systemic focus on personalization and competencies – going beyond the traditional teaching and learning boundaries and assessment practices – has incredible potential to be an equity catalyst for historically marginalized yet resilient learners. Consequently, as a long-term outcome, we expect to see the closing of gaps and overall progress on academic measures, metacognitive skills, career readiness and postsecondary success.

The research advisory committee helped to clarify the need to clearly communicate our theory of change – our bets – to set clear expectations about what outcomes to expect and when to expect them. It may be unrealistic to expect to see immediate student-level impact on things such as grades and standardized assessments. This is partly because traditional assessments are not the best ways to measure learning and system uptake and systems-level strategies take longer time to reach the classroom.  Power indicators provide proxy measures for scaling and impact, and may serve as a good intermediate metric to understand process and impact as districts and states work to scale personalized, competency-based learning. While the work of the research advisory committee is ongoing, we are excited about the possibilities of power indicators to support equitable education practices. 

A future of educational equity and excellence

Personalized, competency-based learning holds great promise for transforming education into a more human-centered, flexible and equitable experience. However, to fully realize its potential, we must integrate equity-focused research and evaluation practices. By understanding the diverse needs of learners, addressing biases, assessing impact on marginalized communities, ensuring personalized support and informing inclusive policies, researchers and educators can collaboratively work towards a future where competency-based education serves as a catalyst for educational equity and excellence. Picture a future where education knows no boundaries, and the data insights gained are a shared resource for all.


Gregory Seaton
Senior Director of Impact and Improvement

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