When it comes to competency-based learning, New Hampshire is a trailblazer. In the words of one New Hampshire educator, “All students need to have certain skills and certain dispositions to be ready for whatever the future holds for them.” Along these lines, the state began launching competency-based learning pilots in 1998; by 2013, it had developed and implemented state-level competencies in a variety of subjects. In addition to the more traditional English language arts, mathematics, and science, New Hampshire students also have access to competencies in work-study practices and arts.
Competencies in Work-Study Practices
The competencies in work-study practices focus on behaviors that enhance learning achievement while promoting a positive work ethic. Students strive to master the following:
- listening to and following directions
- accepting responsibility
- staying on task
- completing work accurately
- managing time wisely
- showing initiative
- being cooperative
In order to be college and career ready, New Hampshire students need to demonstrate proficiency in four work-study practices:
- Communication: using various media to interpret, question, and express knowledge, information, ideas, feelings, and reasoning to create mutual understanding
- Creativity: using original and flexible thinking to communicate ideas or construct a unique product or solution
- Collaboration: working in diverse groups to achieve a common goal
- Self-Direction: initiating and managing learning and demonstrating a “growth” mindset through self-awareness, self-motivation, self-control, self-advocacy, and adaptability as a reflective learner
Arts Model Competencies
The arts model competencies foster learning in the art disciplines of dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts. There are four art competencies:
- Creating: applying the skills and language of a specific arts discipline to demonstrate the ability to create in the arts
- Presenting: applying the skills and language of a specific arts discipline to demonstrate the ability to present in the arts
- Responding: applying the skills and language of a specific arts discipline to demonstrate the ability to respond in the arts
- Connecting: applying the skills and language of a specific arts discipline to demonstrate the ability to connect in the arts
In addition to the competencies, New Hampshire schools also provide students access to extended learning opportunities. These include:
- athletic and sports experiences
- independent study
- online courses
- performing group
- private instruction
- work-based learning
Chugach School District, Alaska
The Chugach School District (CSD) in south central Alaska is not your typical school district. Headquartered in Anchorage, the district encompasses 22,000 square miles and consists of small towns and villages separated by vast expanses of land. Most students live in remote areas accessible only by aircraft. The district’s teachers need to be adept at a wide range of subjects, from wilderness and cold-water safety to how to respond to an encounter with a bear. The district’s academic structure, which spans pre-school to post-secondary education, is not typical either.
Since 1994, CSD has been successfully implementing competency-based education. The transition to this learning style took place over a three-year period. During that time, school officials held dozens of community meetings, inviting parents, students, educators, business leaders, and community members to share their input for a new vision of school that put students at the center.
The CSD approach is a “whole child education” that emphasizes real-life learning situations. Credit hours and grade levels were replaced with individualized lessons and a focus on measurable and demonstrable proficiency in 10 areas of performance. These 10 domains (based on what parents and communities said they wanted for their children) are:
- career development
- cultural awareness and expression
- personal/social/health development
- service learning
- social sciences
Mastery of the content, rather than attaining a particular number of credit hours, is the essential condition for graduation. Within the domains, students can work at their own pace and allow their personal learning style to flourish. Students partake in a variety of formal and informal assessments, which are designed to determine whether students can apply skill and knowledge in real-life situations.
CSD still requires all students to meet the benchmark testing requirements and pass the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam. In addition to reading, writing, and math, CSD’s graduation requirements include science, social science, and its five non-traditional content areas. The district’s expectation is that in each domain, students will attain a level of knowledge that prepares them for their next step in life.
The state of New Hampshire and the Chugach School District are leading the charge when it comes to moving from a traditional “one size fits all” education to personalized, student-centered, competency-based learning. Educators in these systems have created and implemented a blueprint to instill in their students the core values, skills, knowledge, and mindset they will need to succeed in school, at work, and in their communities. Many other states are now following in the footsteps of these education pioneers.
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