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.

The Power of Assessment for Learning: Twenty Years of Research and Practice in UK and US Classrooms (1st Edition) by Christine Ann Harrison & Margaret Heritage

Harrison, C. A., & Heritage, M. (2019). The Power of Assessment for Learning: 20 years of research and practice in UK and US schools. Sage Publications.

What do we mean by formative assessment?

Formative assessment, as defined in the Michigan FAME program, is described in this Learning Point.

What is collaborative scoring? Why can it be so valuable?

This Learning Point outlines how collaborative scoring is a means to assuring that student work is judged reliably and the training and act can be valuable professional learning and support more use of performance assessment.

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