Designing Your Competency-Based School

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          This book offers 16 Quality Design Principles to guide the development of competency-based learning with the goal of creating a system in which every student succeeds.


          This report uses logic model frameworks to convey relationships between essential levers (outcomes, drivers and mediating factors) that inform the design of           competency education systems and critical components of competency-based practice at four interdependent levels (student experience, professional practice of educators,           district and school systems and culture).



The following is from Levers and Logic Models


A. Levers

We do not design educational systems in a vacuum. We design them based on what we want to be true for students, our knowledge about how students learn and what is necessary to ensure all students learn, and conditions specific to our local context. In this section we describe three types of levers that inform the design and implementation of competency-based education systems so that they can achieve quality.


Outcomes: New Definitions of Student Success

Graduation requirements, learning outcomes and learning measures have substantial influence in determining how schools are organized. Outcomes and measures shape how students experience learning through the selection of content, instructional strategies and assessments. Traditional models tend to emphasize lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy:

they expect students to prove basic recall and comprehension of content knowledge aligned to grade-level standards. Competency-based systems emphasize: balance between broad content knowledge and enduring understandings of key concepts and skills; ability to apply and transfer knowledge and skills to meaningful problems and contexts; and skills, dispositions and habits that contribute to lifelong learning.


As districts and schools come to deeply understand this expanded definition of student success, they will find it necessary to make very different decisions about student experiences, instructional strategies, district policies and the culture of learning. It is helpful to think about the role of outcomes with regard to systems design in two ways. First, outcomes can be used to engage in backward design. When we know what we want to be true for students in their adulthood, we can define graduation expectations, critical learning and developmental milestones and ways to assess readiness and progress. Second, outcomes can be used to frame how we think about students’ experiences throughout the process of learning. We can use our understanding of student success to inform what students experience at different points in their learning and what supports they need at different stages of their development.


Drivers: Learning Sciences and Equity

We think of drivers as key “learning levers.” They describe bodies of research about how people learn and what is needed to promote equity, and they help us understand how to use this research to make decisions about practice at all levels. This may sound like common sense, but an inventory of educational practice in traditional systems reveals a gaping chasm between research and practice. From a historical standpoint, the traditional system was built to promote efficiency, not to promote learning or equitable outcomes. And even though much has been accomplished to create greater access and opportunity within traditional systems, biases and inequitable practices continue to have harmful effects on the education that many students and their family’s experience. Thus, to create an education system that is designed to help all students successfully learn, progress and build the knowledge and skills they need for the future, competency-based education is firmly rooted in learning levers:


  • Learning Sciences: Aligning with what is known about how students and adults learn and develop; and
  • Equity: Ensuring that all students’ learning needs are met and the predictability of achievement based on race, income or other factors is reduced or eliminated.


Competency-based systems should embody the most current research about learning and enact practices that dismantle structural barriers to equitable opportunities and outcomes. As leaders and communities embark on the path to become competency-based, it is imperative that they understand these drivers and use to them to evaluate progress.



Mediating Factors: Student Demographics and Local Context

Community context influences districts and schools: how they are organized and how they make decisions about practices, structures and policies. Intentionally considering the broader context including the opportunities and challenges it provides will lead to improved quality. Responding to the community context enables districts and schools take advantage of assets and seek strategies to respond to the experiences of students and their families. There are two mediating levers to consider in competency-based systems.


  • STUDENT POPULATION:Competency-based systems embrace the idea of meetingstudents where they are in their learning and development,culture and life experiences. Districts and schools consider their student population as they design strategies that will lead to student success. Pedagogy, student supports and resource allocation are all informed by the student population. Districts and schools develop multiple strategies to value the culture, community and life experiences of students and their families including setting the direction.
  • LOCAL CONTEXT: In considering the local context in designing high-quality competency-based systems, the history, cultures and institutions within the community must be taken into account, including the economic and workforce dynamics. In addition the education sector — state and federal education policies, funding and resources, the strengths (and weaknesses) of improvement efforts, and the availability of technology — will need to be considered. Competency-based approaches are customized to local context to ensure they are effective and relevant to communities, and implementation is feasible, effective and sustainable.


All three design levers — outcomes, mediating factors and drivers — are critical for quality and equity. Ask yourself this: Why would a school dedicated to ensuring that every student masters the academic knowledge and skills needed for college and career use anything but research- informed school design strategies and instruction? Could a district or school that doesn’t embrace equity at the core of its decisions be considered on the path to creating a system in which every student masters the core graduation

expectations? Schools and districts embarking on the pathway to becoming competency-based should begin with clarifying their understanding of these drivers, and working

with their communities to understand how the drivers can be used to inform all levels of practice: student experience, professional practice, district systems, and culture.


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