Competency Based Education

What is Competency-Based Education?

Curriculum has evolved from whatever textbook schools liked best to state curriculum frameworks to national content standards. What we learned from traditional curriculum, instruction and assessment, is students learned as much information as they could during a unit, took a test at the end of the unit and three months later, forgot much of what they had learned. Colleges began complaining that students weren’t ready for college work and needed remediation in reading, writing and study skills in order to be successful students. Employers complained that workers didn’t have the requisite skills needed to be successful in the workplace.

New Hampshire has been a leader in our country for supporting rigorous, locally developed curriculum, instruction and assessments. In 2007, NH high schools were mandated to create and implement a competency based education system where students had to demonstrate mastery of a specific set of learning targets, or competencies. Students could have as much time as they needed and could redo assessments until they demonstrated mastery of the content area. “Competencies are not the same as a standard. Competency requires that a student be able to transfer content and skill in a particular setting. Competencies are things that you carry with you as a learner” (From We have a shift from what we are teaching to what students are learning.

By 2017, all K-8 schools are required to have written competencies in English/Language Arts and Mathematics. It is recommended all major subjects are focused on demonstrating competency, including Social Studies, Science, Arts and Work Study Practices, such as communication, self-direction, creativity and collaboration.

How will I know if my child’s class is competency based?

You’ll see:

  • Each grade level has competencies to describe the rigorous knowledge, abilities and skills required for task performance. “I can” statements are listed for each competency for each grade or grade span. For example:

    • Grade 3-4 Competency for Narrative Writing:

Students will compose narrative texts, describing real or imaginary events or experiences, using a variety of forms (stories, legends, plays, poems)

  • I can develop a sequence of events that unfold logically and maintain my focus or message throughout the text.

  • I can develop characters, using dialogue and descriptions that engage my readers

  • I can use a variety of transitional words and sensory details to connect and elaborate on my ideas.

  • Teachers use a variety of materials, instructional methods and performance tasks to bring students to mastery.

  • Competency based learning is designed for students to demonstrate mastery of required tasks through application of both knowledge and reasoning skills.

  • Learning objectives are accompanied by effective rubrics that help students understand themselves as learners.

  • Assessment is meaningful and is a positive experience for students.

  • The competency and the learning objectives allow for personalization and opportunities for deeper learning.

  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. Parents will receive more detailed feedback on student progress.

  • Students advance upon mastery.

(Sturgis, C. 2012. The Art and Science of Designing Competencies)