Competency-Based Education

CompetencyWorks Report Outlines Successful Competency Ed Implementation Framework

CompetencyWorks has unveiled a new report, "Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders," designed to help districts move from traditional educational models to personalized and competency-based environments in an effort to meet individual student needs.

"The traditional, time-based education system is failing students. Competency education creates a system-wide infrastructure that creates the necessary feedback loops to ensure that students are learning," said Chris Sturgis, author of the report and principal at MetisNet, in a prepared statement. "The transition toward competency education is not easy, yet the strategic recommendations from cutting-edge leaders presented in this paper provide strategies to both ease and accelerate this transition."

While almost 9 in 10 states have "created some room for competency-based innovations," according to the report, districts are the driving force behind the movement as they must authorize c schools implementing competency-based approaches to exercise some autonomy on assessments, teacher evaluation, grading, promotion, budgeting and more.

Culled from interviews and site visits at competency-based schools conducted over five years, the report finds that there are four stages to implementing the model and the first three tend to take a minimum of five years.

The first stage, ramping up for transformation, includes investing in shared leadership, constructing a shared journey of inquiry and creating a shared vision and ownership.

"The emphasis on sharing denotes that these approaches differ from those commonly used in traditional systems," according to the report. "These are collaborative approaches that generate respect and trust. They contribute to the formation of a different type of school culture — one that is student-centered rather than system-centered, empowering rather than compliance-oriented, cooperative rather than dependent on individual leadership and motivated by learning rather than by carrots or sticks."

The second stage is designing the infrastructure for learning. Steps in this stage include investing in student agency, clarifying pedagogical approaches, configuring instruction and assessment, creating personalization policies and procedures and empowering teachers.

Steps in stage two are not linear, however, as they "require an iterative approach so alignment can be developed within the learning infrastructure," according to the report.

The third phase, transitioning to a competency-based system, comprises preparing for leadership lifts, choosing a strategy for rollout, getting teachers ready for personalized classrooms, preparing for leveling and parent conversations, making course corrections, refining the instructional model and cycle and preparing for the implementation dip.

The transitioning phase "is the period of time when people use the phrases 'building the ship in the water' and 'constructing the plane in the air,'" according to the report. "Educators are doing double-duty setting up the new system while also educating students within the traditional system, which makes this a time of excitement, nervousness, challenge and frustration."

The fourth and final stage, embracing continuous improvement and innovation, includes improving performance and personalization with data, addressing struggling students' needs, revisiting the shared vision and instructional model and staying the course.

"As districts build the capacity for continuous improvement, they find they need a more agile organizational capacity — they need an adaptive district," according to the report. "They may start by thinking about the organization differently by placing students at the top of the organizational chart rather than the superintendent or school board. Then they will begin, as Pittsfield School District and Chugach School District have done, to develop a flatter district organizational structure. Job descriptions are revisited, success measures put into place, and structures established to emphasize the knowledge, skills, and talents the adults need to succeed."

"It is important to note that this journey requires a shift in paradigm from a system-centered approach to one that is learner-centered," Sturgis writes in the report's conclusion. "Leaders and educators must understand the research on teaching and how students learn. They will need to redesign their instruction and practices based on these understandings, placing students at the center. Teachers have described their transition year to competency education as the most challenging year of their professional lives, the most reflective and also the most meaningful. They have also emphasized that they cannot imagine going back to the old way of doing things."

The full report is available for free at

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].