The Rise of Competency Education K-16



In a press release to its members last month, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) announced that it has been assisting in the reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is moving forward to the Senate as the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA), a bill last updated as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001. On their blog, iNACOL’s Maria Worthen said this about the work: “Overall, ECAA moves ESEA in a direction that should appeal to many in the field of blended, online and competency education. The bill would open up greater flexibility around how state systems of assessments and accountability are designed, and eliminates some time-based constructs, such as the highly qualified teacher definition.” The bill calls for states to continue to conduct annual accountability assessments but opens the door for states to consider things like growth measures, adaptive measurements, multiple measures and assess when ready, innovative assessment flexibility, and state-led accountability.

This work comes only months after the federal government granted permission for four competency-based New Hampshire school districts to implement an alternative school accountability model pilot that uses classroom-embedded performance assessments rather than a single state-developed standardized assessment to measure the growth of a school. I discussed that pilot, known as Performance Assessments of Competency Education, or PACE, in a December 2014 Multibriefs Education exclusive.

For competency education supporters, the reauthorization of ESEA may bring about a rise of competency education K-16 in the coming years. Worthen discussed that issue in more detail recently in her article entitled Supporting Competency Education in ESEA Reauthorization. There, she spoke about how politicians on both sides of the equity in education debate have come to agree that a new approach for school accountability and assessment was needed in our country. She wrote, “Competency education offers a real alternative to the current paradigm, providing a framework for learning that drives towards proficiency to academic standards through personalized learning and differentiated supports for every student.”
While competency education has taken on different meanings for different states, iNACOL has long defined it as having five components:
  1. Students advance upon mastery.
  2. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  3. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  4. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  5. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with development of important skills and dispositions.
Competency education is not just a new idea for elementary and secondary schools. Last November, New Hampshire school principal Jonathan Vander Els talked about his vision for Competency Education in a K-16+ World. “As competency-based education spreads, both within K-12 schools and districts and at the college level, educators across the nation and the world need to be able to question what we are doing and how we are doing things. Are we instructing and grading the way we always have because that’s the way it’s always been done? Or are we willing to provide each other with the encouragement to innovate and to learn about different ways of helping ALL students learn at high levels?”
Following a major summit in Boston on competency education last fall hosted by the New England Board of Education, colleges and universities all over the country are beginning the process to redesign their assessment models following the same competency education philosophy that elementary and secondary schools are using. 
Competency education is bringing about an unprecedented time in our nation’s history where everyone involved, from the elementary teacher to the college professor to the federal policymaker has committed to a singular goal of helping schools provide real evidence for students on their learning and their level of college and career readiness. If we continue to stay on this path, the future for our children looks bright.

 This article written originally for MultiBriefs Education.

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