Using Policy to Expand Personalized Learning: Part 2 - Competency-based Progression

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What if we gave every teenager a driver’s license just for turning 16, without requiring them to demonstrate their knowledge of the road rules on a written test or prove their ability to safely maneuver a car?

If age alone determined when teenagers could start driving, the road would be a pretty dangerous place.

Although this might seem like an extreme comparison, our education system often treats students in the same way by advancing students through school based on the number of birthdays they have celebrated rather than their actual level of knowledge. Promoting a student from one grade to the next regardless of whether she has the knowledge she needs to be successful at the next level makes little sense.

Last week I talked about the importance of giving school leaders flexibility regarding staffing ratios and class structure. Next let’s think about how students can benefit from an education system that values whether she learns the content instead of how long she spends in a particular class.

Competency-based Progression

Policy #2: Require that all students demonstrate mastery on standards-based competencies to earn credit for a course and to advance to the succeeding course.

Grade-level promotion has historically been dictated by students’ age and attendance. This system takes a one-size-fits-all approach to education, and typically serves students in the middle of the class – students who need additional review end up being moved along before they’re ready, while students who have already achieved mastery on a given topic are prevented from moving ahead and often end up bored and disengaged.

Competency-based learning centers on individual student needs by allowing students to learn at their own pace and to develop prerequisite skills before tackling next-level subject matter. Students only advance when they achieve competency and mastery of the material, while having greater freedom and ownership over their learning. Imagine that – providing students with an education that is custom-made for them based on academic needs, not age- or seat-time requirements completely unrelated to student growth. That’s the power of personalized learning.

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