From pandemic to possibility: Now is the time to consider competency-based education

Special to redefinED

Editor’s note: This post from Ben Owens, co-founder of Open Way Learning, and Joey Lee, Chief Learning Officer at LiFT Learning, first appeared on Getting Smart.

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” 

From the time I first read this famous Stephen Covey quote in the late 1980s, I’ve always used it as my litmus test for deciding if an initiative I was considering would be beneficial or a distraction. Its power lies not only in an objective evaluation for strategic planning, but it also forces you or your organization to really come to terms with your why. 

This also explains why I believe so many educators are suggesting that now is the time to move away from the old norms of traditional grading and assessment and embrace a competency-based education approach: It better aligns with the “main thing” of true teaching and learning.

While definitions of CBE vary, there are a few core ideas that actually align it much closer to the true purpose of school than a status quo system based on arbitrary time constraints, age-based cohorts, and a fixation with grade chasing. The Aurora Institute is recognized as a leading advocate for CBE and its definition includes aspects such as the following:

·       Students have individual learning pathways, with varied pacing based on progress based on evidence of mastery instead of seat time.

·       Students learn actively using different schema and varied pacing based on individual needs and goals.

·       Students have agency over learning decisions, including they acquire and demonstrate their learning.

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