School Administrative Unit #9


Competency-Based Education Defined 

  • Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, learning objectives that empower students and can be applied in different settings.
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support and feedback based on their individual learning needs.
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.


bullseyeDefined Competencies and Standards

Competencies describe a student’s ability to TRANSFER skills and content across content areas.   They represent big understandings and the application of knowledge, and skills.  They are assessed multiple times and across content areas.


  • Students will design and carry out a scientific investigation in a safe and ethical manner.
  • Students prove, model and understand geometric concepts to solve problems.

Standards define specifically what students are to know and will be able to do.  They are often content or skills specific and assessed at one moment in time.


  • Students can use a thermometer to record temperatures accurately.
  • Students can find the area and perimeter of different geometric shapes.

clockAnytime, Any place, Any pace Learning

In a competency-based system, it is recognized that learning takes place in many different settings, times, and at different paces.  It’s not JUST about learning in a classroom.  Students may learn in multiple ways, including by using technology, accessing community resources, and engaging in other life experiences.  They are provided opportunities to show what they know and earn credit.  They move on when they are ready, not at an arbitrary time determined by a schedule.

handsSeparation of Work Habits

In a competency-based system, work habits are extremely important, so much so that they are assessed independent from content.  Students grades relating to content demonstrate only their knowledge related to those skills and content, not their behaviors in class.  Behaviors are assessed and reported separately to ensure grades communicate actual learning.

talkingStudent Voice and Choice

Student voice and choice refers to a student’s ability to have a say in what and how he or she is learning.  This relates to the classes they take, how they access and acquire the material, and how they demonstrate their understanding.  It does not mean there is a free-for-all with students making all decisions.  Students will be required to demonstrate mastery of identified competencies and standards.  However, they will be able to have a say in how that happens. 

choicesVaried Avenues for Credit

Opportunities for earning credits through varied avenues are referred to as ELOs, or extended learning opportunities.  For example, some students may earn their physical education credit through a traditional class.  Others may earn it through participation in a sport, either on a school team or outside the school setting.   Another example could be a student earning an English credit as a result of working at a local newspaper.  If learning is going to take place in varied settings, there needs to be a process in place for students to earn credit for that learning.  Working with an educator and community partner, a student would create a plan.  When the student is ready, he or she would present evidence of how mastery was demonstrated to earn the credit. 

mindfulnessMindful Practices

Learners in the 21st century need not only content, but also strong habits of mind in order to succeed.  Those skills include:

  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving

Building those habits of mind requires students to have a strong social emotional learning component embedded in their education.   By incorporating mindful practices within our learning environments we will be able to provide students with opportunities to develop achieve so much more than content alone.

handprintsPersonalized Learning     
Personalized learning in a competency-based environment refers to education that is driven by each student’s unique needs in terms of instruction, assessment and even content.  Essential elements for personalized learning include really knowing each and every student, students knowing their learning goals and objectives, students progressing upon mastery and providing flexible learning environments (Marzano, 2017).  In a personalized learning environment, educators meet students where they are and help them to grow from there.

soccer_playerGrades Reflect Evidence and Application of Learning

When looking at a traditional transcript, it is impossible to know whether a B in chemistry indicates that a student learned 80% of the content, showed mastery of 100% of the content at the end of the term but only knew 60% on the first assessment.  Maybe the student understood even less and earned the B by doing extra credit.  Grades in a competency-based environment communicate a student’s actual mastery of a competency.  We look for patterns and evidence of learning.  Students are provided with multiple attempts to learn after feedback.  Think about it in terms of being on a sports team.  “If you have a bad week practicing, you don’t show up on Friday night with a minus five on the scoreboard” (Varlas, 2013, p. 6).

checkmarkAssessment Of, While and For Learning

In a competency-based system assessment is a meaningful process and a positive learning experience for students.  Educators use formative assessments throughout learning to inform instruction and help students set goals.  Summative assessments allow students to demonstrate their competency when they are ready, not on a date predetermined by an educator.

puzzleCross Curriculum Connections

In a competency-based system, the walls between content areas are broken down so students can see an apply skills from one content area to others.  Students may demonstrate their ability to apply math concepts while engaged in a scientific research project.  They may demonstrate writing competency through the lens of social studies.  By helping students to see how the skills and content from one area apply to others, learning becomes more meaningful and relevant.

applicationReal World Applications for Learning

Not only is learning connected between content areas, but in a competency-based system students also discover and apply their learning in real work situations.  They study real problems and find solutions.  Students are provided opportunities to see how what they are learning could impact their lives outside of school and into the future.

student_conferenceStudent-led Demonstration of Learning

A critical component to a competency-based system is that students take ownership of their learning.   When students are engaged in the assessment process they understand themselves as learners and set goals for growth.    They become motivated to achieve and learn.  Having students lead their own demonstrations of learning also provides opportunities for families and community members to be involved in the process and celebrate learning.

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