The 21st century is an exciting and challenging time for students. In order to succeed, young people need to be adept at problem solving, collaboration, and inquiry. Many schools are turning to competency-based learning to help students make the most of their education and prepare them for success in college, career, and life.
As the name implies, competency-based learning is organized around competencies. These competencies are essential skills students need in order to succeed both in school and beyond. This educational shift to skills over content, mastery over seat time, and targets over tasks—requires new methods of assessment. So, what does a competency-based assessment look like?
An essential question for designing a competency-based assessment is “What should a student be able to do as a result of completing the assessment?” A way to address this is with “I can” statements. The following is an example of a Grade 8 competency—referred to as a Global Leadership Performance Outcome—developed by the Asia Society’s Center for Global Education:
- Competency: Recognize Perspectives
What is the evidence that a student can recognize, articulate, and apply an understanding of different perspectives (including his/her own?)
- I Can Statement: I can summarize the perspective of others. This means I can describe the main idea of another person’s perspective. The perspective I’m describing could be similar to or different from my own perspective.
The Competency and I Can Statement are accompanied by a rubric, which helps teachers clarify with students what they are learning and why they are learning it. Students and teachers can use the rubric to measure performance, reflect on learning, and plan next steps.
- Rubric: Explains the perspective of other people, groups, or scholars as distinct from one’s own perspective.
Variety of Competency-Based Assessments
Competency-based assessments can take many forms:
These support competency-based education by making sure teachers understand students’ needs, so they can modify instruction in real time, and provide timely feedback.
Students collect artifacts they can share with peers and teachers. For example, through images and videos, students could chronicle the progression of a multi-year project, highlighting the project’s development, revisions, and completion as evidence of learning.
Students can be evaluated after instruction and work is completed, to gauge their mastery of a skill or competency in a particular subject. The outcome of these assessments can be used to guide future efforts.
Students are evaluated on how they perform in real-life situations, like conducting an experiment, starting a business, creating a community garden, or designing a building.
Digital tools allow teachers to set a desired level of mastery students must achieve before advancing. Technology also enables students to create, innovate, and share. For example, students at Chinn Elementary in Kansas City, MO, researched an animal, wrote and illustrated their own book about the animal, made videos of the finished project, and shared the videos with peers and parents.
The Apollo School is a pioneer in competency-based learning and assessment. This voluntary program for students in grades 11 and 12 operates inside Central York High School, a regular public school in Pennsylvania. Students participate in semester-long, four-hour blocks of classes. These classes blend English, social studies, and art, and are co-taught by three teachers, one from each subject area.
Students in the Apollo School set their own schedule that consists of independent and group work, one-on-one appointments with teachers, and optional mini lessons of their choice. They spend the rest of their day following a regular school schedule.
To complete their programs, students in the Apollo School are responsible for designing and completing four major projects, each of which is connected to a common theme and aligned to standards in all three subject areas. Students meet with teachers to discuss the critical thinking skills: reasoning, perspective, contextualization, synthesis, communication, and time management, and how their projects meet the required standards.
How do you measure mastery? That’s really what it comes down to with assessing competency-based learning. Competency-based assessments can take a variety of forms from multiple-choice questions to performance-based assessments and real-world observations. Assessments must allow students to demonstrate behaviors and thought processes reflected in the competencies. Assessment scores should also have a demonstrable link to successful future outcomes in academic settings or the workplace. Effectively measuring mastery certainly presents challenges, but it is a vital endeavor, and one we at Victory look forward to achieving by partnering with publishers and educators.
Look out for a future blog about competency-based learning in action: Competency-Based Learning at the State and District Level.
Frost, Dale. “How New Hampshire Transformed to a Competency-Based System.” iNACOL, 10 May 2016.
Gonzalez, Jennifer. “The Apollo School: What 21st Century Learning Looks Like.” Cult of Pedagogy, 12 Feb. 2017.
Hudson, Eric. “How to Design a Competency-Based Assessment.” Global Online Academy, 17 Oct. 2018.
“Leadership is a Global Competence.” Center for Global Education, Asia Society, n.d.
McClarty, Katie Larsen and Matthew N. Gaertner. “Measuring Mastery: Best Practices for Assessment in Competency-Based Education.” Center for College and Success, Pearson, Apr. 2015.
Mehta, Jal and Sarah Fine. “Why the Periphery Is Often More Powerful than the Core.” Harvard Ed Magazine, Winter 2017.
“New Hampshire High School Transformation.” New Hampshire Department of Education, n.d.
“NH Vision 2.0.” New Hampshire Department of Education, n.d.
Schaffhauser, Dian. “5 Assessment Trends for the New School Year.” The Journal, 15 Aug. 2019.
Sturgis, Chris. “Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System.” Competency Works Report, iNACOL, Mar. 2016.
Thoeming, Barbra. “New to Competency-Based Learning? Here’re Five Ways to Assess It.” EdSurge, 22 May 2017.
“What is Competency-Based Education?” Competency Works, n.d.
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