Competency-Based Learning

Create personalized learning paths that allow students to progress toward goals and demonstrate competency in flexible formats

About Competency-Based Learning

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.

Featured Strategies

In a self-paced or mastery based learning environment, building a mastery map and a network of student experts can help
In a self-paced or mastery based learning environment, building a mastery map and a network of student experts can help
A pre-assessment is the foundation of a Mastery-Based Progression as it allows students and teacher to focus on what is most needed
A pre-assessment is the foundation of a Mastery-Based Progression as it allows students and teacher to focus on what is most needed
A Mastery-Based Progression unleashes students to work at their own pace so creating and monitoring a simple pacing calendar can help
A Mastery-Based Progression unleashes students to work at their own pace so creating and monitoring a simple pacing calendar can help

Growth Areas

BetterLesson growth areas are targeted goals for growth in a learning domain through BetterLesson Coaching. Learn more about BetterLesson Coaching.
My students and I design learning progressions with clearly demarcated phases of mastery
My students create performance indicators and assessment tools to measure progress towards mastery
My students determine multiple representations of mastery to meet performance indicators
My students have opportunities to master skills at their own pace
My students self-assess, track their progress towards mastery, and iterate based on the data

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