Mastery-based progressions are an approach to education whereby students work at their own level and progress at their own pace on the path to proficiency. While many students are forced to follow curricula mandated at the state level, competency-based classrooms allow a flexible, varied approach to learning where students can demonstrate their understanding at different times and often in different ways.
Competency-based progressions use state-mandated content standards broken down by grade level as an end goal, but the process and the timing for each student to demonstrate competency of that standard varies from student to student. In a competency-based progression, students work towards learning goals along phases of competency that represent intermediate stages in skill development. As they progress, students participate in instructional activities that are appropriate given their current understanding and progress along the learning progression. Students receive data-based interventions and support along all steps of the learning progression to address any difficulty they may be having. Finally, they reflect on their own progression to mastery and use that reflection to inform their own future learning.
An increasing number of school districts are making personalized teaching and learning the foundation of their educational philosophy. However, implementation of competency-based practices does not have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor; competency-based learning can be adopted in one specific realm of the classroom such as a self-paced workshop or differentiated, student-selected stations.
Why it's important
In traditional classrooms, students follow a set, predetermined 13-year instructional plan from kindergarten through high school graduation, in which all students are expected to fit a common learning mold and demonstrate their competency in the same manner and at the same time as their peers. In this model, students are the receivers of knowledge rather than the seekers of understanding, and the pace of their progression is controlled by their teacher and the demands of a specific set of standards for a given grade level.
To thrive in today's world, students need to be flexible, critical thinkers, able to understand what is being asked of them and use the tools available to them to solve problems both independently and collaboratively. In a competency-based progression learning model, teachers become the facilitators of student learning, allowing students to develop the necessary skills, habits, and learning practices to ensure success both in the classroom and beyond.
What success looks like
Whether a teacher uses the competency-based progression in all elements of their teaching or only for specific elements of class, successful mastery-based progressions will allow the following to be true in the classroom:
Students can explain not only what they need to master but also what mastery looks like.
Students participate in instructional activities that are appropriate given their current understanding and progress towards mastery of the learning goal.
Teachers use formative assessments to determine where each student is in their progress toward mastery of concepts or skills, and they use that knowledge to help determine the best next steps and instructional decisions to move the student towards the learning goal.
Students are able to articulate their learning goals, explain the steps they will take to reach those goals, and reflect on their own progression to inform their future learning.
Teachers use student performance data to provide data-based interventions and supports, and to help students find resources to guide their learning, but students have choice in how and when they learn.
BetterLesson Blog Posts:
Bertrand, Romain. Making the Creation of Mastery-Based Progressions Achievable. October 9, 2018.
Mathewson, Tara Garcia. Future of Learning: A fourth-grade teacher shows what “mastery-based” looks like in her classroom. August 28, 2018.
Naeleigh, Molly. The Building Blocks of A Mastery Based Learning System (Part 2). August 21, 2018.
Naeleigh Molly. The Building Blocks of A Mastery Based Learning System (Part 1). August 14, 2018.
Naeleigh, Molly. Students’ Drive Their Learning: What Is A Mastery Based Learning System? July 31, 2018.
Lazareva, Milana & Bertrand, Romain. Fill the Gaps: From an Idea to a Personalized Learning Strategy. May 22, 2018.
Achieve. "The Role of Learning Progressions in Competency-Based Pathways." 2015.
Briggs, Derek C. et al. "Using a Learning Progression Framework to Assess and Evaluate Student Growth." Center for Assessment Design Research and Evaluation. 2015.
CompetencyWorks. "What is Competency Education?" International Association for K-12 Online Learning. 2014.
Corcoran, Tom et al. "Learning Progressions in Science: An Evidence-based Approach to Reform." Consortium for Policy Research in Education: Center on Continuous Instructional Improvement. 2009.
Heritage, Margaret. "Learning Progressions: Supporting Instruction and Formative Assessment." National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing. 2008.
Hess, Karin. "Developing and Using Progressions as a Schema for Measuring Progress." National Center for Assessment. 2008.
Indiana Department of Education. "Learning Progression Guided by Formative Assessment: Self-Reflective Rubric."
Rand Education. 'Competency-Based Education."
Sturgis, Chris and Patrick Susan. "When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning." Nellie Mae
Education Foundation. 2010.
Walton, Janice and Ryerse, Mary. "Competency-Based Education: Definitions and Difference Makers." GettingSmart. 2017.