Earlier this year, the organization iNACOL released its latest map, charting the rise of policies that support K-12 competency-based education systems in states from coast to coast. By last count, 17 states have earned the status of "advanced," another 13 have reached the "developing" status. Another 18 have entered the "emerging" status.

This leaves just two states (Wyoming and California) that have not yet begun their journeys. Competency education operates under the notion that curriculum, instruction, assessment, grading, and reporting are focused on the transfer of skills in and across content areas.

Competencies are identified by content area, grade level, and course, and students have many pathways to demonstrate mastery. Grades are no longer a hodge-podge of academics and academic behaviors that are averaged together as a percentage-based score. In competency-based systems, grades are about what students learn, not what they earn.

As competency-based education sweeps the nation, it seems only fitting that teacher professional development would become competency-based. Enter micro-credentials, a new way to track teacher learning and professional development. According to this 2017 Getting Smart article, "A micro-credential is a certification indicating demonstrated competency in a specific skill. Micro-credentials are also on-demand, shareable, and personalized. Learners have voice and choice in what credentials they want to pursue and can create their own education playlists."

In keeping with the philosophy and structure of competency-based learning for students, micro-credentials allow teachers to select an area of focus, choose how they want to learn, and then demonstrate mastery when they are ready. For teachers, this is the ultimate anytime, anywhere learning model.

When it comes to micro-credentialing, no one does it better than Digital Promise, an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit authorized by Congress in 2008 and signed into law by George W. Bush. Digital Promise is committed to innovation in education in an effort to improve opportunities for learning for all.

According to their website, "Micro-credentials are competency-based, on-demand, personalized, and sharable. They empower educators to drive their professional learning and give administrators the tools they need to personalize learning for the educators and meet their broader goals. Digital Promise is working with states, districts, schools, and educators to implement and build incentive structures for micro-credentials."

You can think of a micro-credential like a merit badge in the Boy Scout system. Examples of micro-credentials could be specific instructional topics such as using wait time effectively, or they could be bigger picture, such as learning how to design a makerspace.

New micro-credentials are created and added to the bank of available learning opportunities for educators all the time. Digital Promise has created a structure to ensure that each new micro-credential meets the following criteria:

  • It focuses on a single competency.
  • It has a key method that is backed by research.
  • It requires the submission of evidence.
  • It includes a rubric or scoring guide.

Teachers are evaluated for mastery based on the evidence they submit. Evidence can include things like a project or lesson plan, student work samples, audio or video results from the classroom, or classroom observation results.

Digital Promise trains evaluators to review the evidence against the rubric and scoring guide for the micro-credential. Just like in a competency-based learning environment for students, teachers who are not successful the first time will receive feedback and be invited to submit their work again.

At this website, Digital Promise offers case studies, success stories, and tips for implementation in your own school or district. In some cases, districts have added incentives for teachers who engage in micro-credentials. As they grow in popularity in the coming years, it will be interesting how they will transform teacher professional development as we know it.