Competency-Based Education (C-BE)

How can assessment literate practice support a Competency-Based Education model?

It takes skilled assessment practitioners to implement Competency-Based Education well. Teachers and students need just-in-time information for each individual student to know where they are in their learning, and where they are ready to grow. This calls for skilled use of performance assessment and of the formative assessment process, which includes such elements as self-assessment, peer assessment, and instructive teacher feedback. Educators also will need to think differently about grading student learning and advancing them along their learning pathway.

Researcher Kathrine Casey points to four assessment literacy capabilities educators need to be successful in C-BE environments:

  1. Design and/or use formative assessment as and for learning;
  2. Design and/or use reliable performance based and summative assessments;
  3. Utilize multiple measures (aligned to expanded definition of student success) to support continuous improvement and to
    adjust instruction; and
  4. Promote learner voice and choice in selecting forms of assessment and demonstration.

What do we mean by "competency-based education (C-BE)?"

Competency-Based Education (C-BE) is a form of personalized learning that supports all students in achieving deep understanding and application of high academic expectations and personal success goals. Education leaders from across the Michigan (and the nation) endorse these primary components as a working definition of Competency-Based Education:

  • Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.
  • Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • Students progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  • Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
  • Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems.
  • Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.

Why Competency-Based Educaton?

"Personalized, competency-based systems have the ability to empower individuals and enable educators to disrupt the historical dynamic of sorting students and replace it with one that seeks to educate 100% of students including those that may have had their education interrupted and desire to complete their diploma."*

Competency-Based Education is embraced by the Michigan Department of Education as a strategy that supports Michigan’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan. When implemented well and supported by high-quality assessment practices, C-BE helps create equitable learning opportunities for students by:

  • ensuring all students have the opportunity to achieve competency
  • avoiding the tendency to sort students into categories (e.g., smart vs not smart; those kids vs these kids)
  • recognizing and building on student assets

*from Sturgis, C. and Casey, K., Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed, 2018.

How does a C-BE approach ensure students master Michigan's academic content standards?

Competency-based systems seek to reduce variability in what is to be learned and what it means to demonstrate mastery. C-BE engages teachers and students in focusing on the essential skills (or model competencies) that lead to mastery of Michigan’s standards and goals for graduates. Essential skills are the core concepts and skills that students need to know deeply so that they are ready for each new level of learning. As such, essential skills act as the building blocks for coherent learning trajectories, curricula, and assessments that support Tier 1 instruction for students as they move through their education toward career and college readiness. Within a C-BE model, students can move through this trajectory in their own way, at their own pace.


Professional Learning to Support Assessment Capabilities Needed for C-BE

A shift to C-BE approach asks educators to make significant changes in their practice, including in how they assess and evaluate student work. The MAC is here to help you achieve the assessment capabilities you will need. We offer a wide range of professional development opportunities and resources and are working with partners to expand a set of performance assessments connected to Michigan’s content standards.

We’ve featured below select resources to support you in using assessment within a Competency-Based Education model.

Featured resources include: recorded webinars and expert interviews; and readings explaining components and elements of the formative assessment process (FAP), performance assessment, and other practices that support learning.

Book Chat with Jay McTighe

In this MAC Book Chat, author Jay McTighe discusses his book, "Assessing Student Learning by Design: Principles and Practices for Teachers and School Leaders" (Teachers College Press, 2021). Jay also co-authored with Grant Wiggins the best-selling "Understanding by Design" published by ASCD.

CompetencyWorks/Aurora Institute

CompetencyWorks, at the Aurora Institute, is a knowledge-building hub and online resource providing information about K-12 competency-based education.

Designing Authentic Performance Tasks and Projects: Tools for Meaningful Learning and Assessment

Embedding Performance Assessment in Instruction

The recorded presentation with Ed Roeber, Assessment Director, MAC, and accompanying article Re-balancing Assessment by Hoffman, Goodwin and Kahl set the stage to create a set of prioritized standards and develop performance assessments to embed in ongoing instruction and highlight the benefits of collaboratively scoring student work

How do we design assessment systems for modern learning?

This Learning Point summarizes a framework for curriculum elements and assessment principles that address all the learning goals we have for modern learners/21st century learners.

Instructionally Embedded Modes of Assessment

This tool defines an IEA - which integrates instruction, learning and assessment into instructional sequences. Steps to implement IEA's in classroom use are recommended. A table of IEA's with hyperlinks to examples is provided for quick access and further learning

LM-Assessment capabilities needed for implementing competency-based education

In this Learning Moment video, author Jay McTighe answers the question, ""What assessment capabilities will be most helpful to educators who are implementing a competency-based education model?" October 7, 2021

LM-Jay McTighe: Key competencies needed for a student to be college and career ready- Mar. 4, 2020

In this Learning Moment video, author Jay McTighe answers the question, "What key competencies are needed for a student to be 'college and career ready?"-3.4.20.

LM-Jay McTighe: What are the benefits of “mapping the curriculum” in terms of desired performances?- Mar. 4, 2020

In this Learning Moment video, author Jay McTighe answers the question, "What are the benefits of "mapping the curriculum" in terms of desired performances rather than simply in terms of content to cover?"- 3.4.20.

LM-Margaret Heritage: Why do students need to be partners in the assessment process?

In this ALN Learning Moment video, Margaret Heritage answers the question, "Why do students need to be partners in the assessment process?"- 2.13.17.

Maximizing Michigan’s Education Flexibility to Advance Student-Centered Learning

This Guide developed by the Michigan Department of Education is designed to help Michigan district and school leaders create their own approach to student-centered learning by taking full advantage of the available flexibility options. It seeks to build understanding of what it means to innovate and how to use innovation and flexibility to expand student-centered learning.

Performance Assessment – What is it and why is it useful?

Performance assessment is defined, and its use described, in this Learning Point.

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