February 3rd, 2014

Competency-Based Education: Frequently Asked Questions

The term “Competency-Based Education” (CBE) is a buzzword in schools today. To help parents understand CBE, we’ve gathered some frequently asked questions. Read on for the answers.
Q. What is CBE?
A. Let’s start with the concept of “Personalized learning”—this means that what students learn (curriculum) and how they are taught (instruction) are tailored to meet of the needs of each student. One way to personalize learning is through CBE. With CBE, students must show that they have mastered academic knowledge and deeper-aligned skills, which are often referred to as competencies, in order to progress in school.
Q. How is CBE different from traditional models of education?
A. A good way to see how CBE works is to compare it to the traditional way a student progresses in school. Here’s a chart showing the differences.

  • Every student spends a certain amount of time on each lesson or in a class. Every student moves on with the class whether or not they have demonstrated mastery of the content.
  • A student can learn at her own pace to master the competency, regardless of how other students are progressing. Her teachers provide personalized supports to ensure she remains on-track and does not fall behind her peers.
  • Every student takes a test at the end of the lesson, unit or class and receives a grade. The grade can be passing or failing but typically does not change.
  • A student can demonstrate what they know and can do in a variety of ways, which may include a test but also can include projects, presentations, and papers. Students have many opportunities to receive a proficient score because the focus is on mastering the competency. Educators are continually evaluating all students so they know when each student is ready to take a test and demonstrate mastery.
  • Every student needs a certain number of credits to get a diploma or move on to the next grade.
  • A student needs to demonstrate mastery of a certain number of competencies to get a diploma or move on to the next grade.

Q. How does CBE work in practice?
A. Over 30 states are using CBE in schools or working on implementing it. To get a sense of how, take a look at a few examples from teachers.
Q. What are the benefits of CBE for students with learning and attention issues?
A. There are three main benefits for students with learning and attention issues.

  • Individualization. Because students can work at their own pace on the specific competencies they haven’t yet mastered, CBE can help make a student’s experience more individualized.
  • Flexibility. It frees students from rigid time requirements so that teachers can provide students with the specific supports they need to master the competencies for graduation. It also allows students to show what they are learning in multiple ways.
  • Empowerment. With CBE, students quickly learn what their strengths and challenges are. Using this knowledge, students can make choices and be part of the learning process.

Q. Are there any potential drawbacks of CBE for students with learning and attention issues?
A. For CBE to work well, schools must be ready to implement it for all students, including those with learning and attention issues. If a school lacks the proper resources—including teachers, time and supports—some students may get left behind.
To keep struggling kids on track, Response-to-Intervention (RTI) and a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). For example, MTSS provides supports and evidence-based instruction. It also uses timely screening, monitoring, assessments and interventions that are tailored to fit each student’s needs.
CBE doesn’t replace RTI or MTSS. In fact, a framework like MTSS can help make sure each student is making progress and meeting competencies at a reasonable pace.
Q. What’s the difference between CBE and an Individualized Education Program for special education?
A. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a program developed for a student who is eligible for special education services. An IEP outlines what services the child gets from a school. The IEP describes how the child is doing now. It also sets goals for academic progress in the future.
CBE, on the other hand, is a system to measure kids’ progress in school. Unlike an IEP, CBE doesn’t necessarily provide services and isn’t required by federal law. Also, CBE isn’t limited to kids getting special education—every child participates and progresses based on strengths and needs. With CBE, your child’s IEP will still exist and be enforceable. The IEP will set goals for your child in the CBE system.

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