4 Models for Competency-Based Education

A new report from CompetencyWorks offers "logic models" for helping to build understanding about competency-based education. Co-author Chris Sturgis warned in a blog article that the 59-page document wasn't written for "newbies." Nor is it a playbook with implementation details. The idea for "Levers and Logic Models," which grew out of discussions during last year's National Summit on K-12 Competency-based Education, is to provide guidance on how to preserve the quality of CBE as it gains traction in schools in order to maintain educational equity.

CompetencyWorks is a collaborative project for developing a community of experts in CBE, under the auspices of iNACOL, a non-profit focused on transforming education through personalized, competency-based learning. The organization convened a technical advisory group that focused on developing the overarching framework and logic models offered in the report. At its core CBE provides a structure in which students advance when they've demonstrated mastery of a concept, not when they've come to the end of the week, semester or school year. The instructional help they receive is timely and differentiated, based on their individual learning needs.

The challenge for CBE proponents, the authors wrote, is that districts and schools are making the transition to this model of instruction and learning "through different entry points and roll-out strategies," resulting in "significant variation" in the education itself. "To a degree, these differences can be traced to regional priorities and needs," the report noted. Others, however, are a result of how well or poorly people understand what they're doing.

Drawing on research and input from numerous CBE practitioners, the framework and logic models are intended to be aspirational in describing "a fully developed competency-based education system." As the report explained, a logic model is a tool for conceptualizing "organizations, programs or strategies to bring about change" and to evaluate how effective they area.

The four logic models covered include:

  • Student experience of learning, including instructional strategies, assessment practices and other elements that make up student success;
  • Professional practice, what teachers do to promote student success and how they're supported themselves;
  • The district and school system, the components that facilitate CBE at the student, class, school, district and state levels; and
  • Culture, or the conditions necessary for helping students and educators succeed with CBE.

The "levers" referenced in the title are the various "outcomes, drivers and mediating factors" that will influence how well the logic models operate on the ground.

The paper is "mind-blowingly dense," Sturgis emphasized, "because we tried to pack all the complexity of what it means to help students learn into the paper." His advice: Consume the contents in "bite-sized pieces." Discuss it with colleagues. Create "reflection questions" based on your own experiences.

The report is openly available on the CompetencyWorks website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.