Competency-based learning, which allows students to progress at their own pace after they've shown mastery of a subject, rather than by their age, is quickly gaining momentum. Already, a few states like New Hampshire, Maine, and Oregon are moving towards implementing competency-based learning models throughout the entire state. What's more, 40 states have at least district experimenting with the model. But despite this growth, its proponents say federal policies for accountability and assessment are holding the movement back.
KnowledgeWorks, an organization that supports three education-focused initiatives -- New Tech Network, EDWorks and Strive -- recently released a report highlighting the pain points between federal policy and a competency-based system. The report, Competency Education Series: Policy Brief One [PDF], points out that, although the federal government has supported some aspects of competency-based learning, implementing the new model can be difficult because of federal restrictions.
“The greatest conflict stems from disconnect with the work on the ground and federal accountability and assessment systems,” the report states. “Implementers faced with this disconnect have no choice but to juggle two systems: one required by federal law and one developed by the educators, students, parents, and community leaders committed to successful implementation of competency education.”
CLASHES OVER TIME
Time is the biggest point of contention between the two systems. The federal government measures school accountability as well as student achievement through time-based modules. Seat time and annual test results are the primary ways that the government keeps schools accountable, categorizes them, and targets them for intervention. And required end-of-year tests focus school instruction timelines in specific ways that do not allow students to move at their own pace, a key element of a competency-based system.