This past week, the CompetencyWorks initiative of the Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL) released an updated definition of competency-based education (CBE).

Aurora developed the first nationally recognized definition for CBE back in 2011 after much input from over 100 practitioners in the field. The 2011 definition has provided a common understanding of the important features needed in CBE systems to schools and school districts from coast to coast.

As Eliot Levine and Susan Patrick described in a release from Aurora this past week, the updated definition reflects the evolution of CBE in the field as the model has grown to include schools from 49 out of 50 states. The updated definition includes new features that place an emphasis on equity, student agency, and different pathways for student success.

With regards to equity, Levine and Patrick stated, “Competency-based education has always been driven by the need for educational equity.” They went on to note that the inclusion of equity “reflects the field’s recognition of the unacceptable truth that deep inequities remain. It highlights the urgency of moving faster and deeper in changing school structure, culture, and pedagogy to achieve equitable student opportunities and outcomes.”

Equity is considered by many educational leaders, myself included, to be one of the biggest issues facing our profession today.

In the updated definition, student agency is directly tied to learning pathways. Levine and Patrick noted, “The statement that students are empowered ‘daily’ to make important decisions about their education signals the depth of commitment to student agency and personalized learning that is central to the shift from a traditional one-size-fits-all system to one that prepares youth more effectively for their futures.”

As our society has evolved and become more and more complex, so, too, have the needs placed by society on our schools. Now more than ever, we need schools that personalize learning to high degrees for all students at all grade levels in the system.

Aurora’s updated 2019 definition of competency-based education is:

  • Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.
  • Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • Students’ progress is based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  • Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
  • Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems.
  • Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.

Earlier this fall, in a MultiBriefs Exclusive, I wrote about the best ways to support educators transitioning to a competency-based education system.

I referenced a number of earlier MultiBrief articles I have written on this topic, as well as a webinar that I co-hosted on the topic for the Aurora Institute. Many of the tools and resources I referenced correlate directly back to the seven design principles of CBE identified by the Aurora Institute.

In the 2018 Solution Tree book that I co-authored with Jonathan Vander Els, “Breaking With Tradition: The Shift to Competency Based Learning in PLCs at Work,” Jon and I placed great emphasis on the need for a collaborative teaming model such as professional learning communities (PLCs) to support CBE. PLCs empower educators to work interdependently to achieve the seven design principles of CBE, holding each other mutually accountable for the success of CBE and the advancement of the vision of “learning for all.” My school has been using CBE for over a decade with a collaborative teaming model serving as the backbone for our work.

Aurora’s announcement this week ushers in a new era for competency-based education. I am confident that it will bring about new ideas and new approaches as together, we work as practitioners in the field to better serve the needs of all our students.