Competency-Based Education Shows Promise in New England

Making Mastery Work: A Close-up View of Competence Education looks at the lessons learned by eleven schools that have taken part in the Proficiency-Based Pathways Project. The project, led by The Nellie Mae Foundation, had the schools design curriculum with an approach that focuses on student mastery of content — that students move from grade to grade based not on how much time they've spent absorbing academic material, but on how much of the material they've actually absorbed.

The schools covered in the report run the gamut from urban to suburban to rural, all located around the New England region of the United States.

 "We were thrilled to work with forward-thinking schools that are pioneering dynamic, new ways to meet students where they are," said Beth M. Miller, Ph.D., Director of Research and Evaluation at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. "This report offers a unique lens into the experiences of committed, thoughtful teachers and school leaders who are equipping students with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in college and beyond."

Education is undergoing a shift that will soon make it unnecessary to rely on a system that tracks the time spent in the classroom, and instead prioritizes how quickly and how thoroughly the material is learned. The report's authors contend that a more appropriate way to judge if the students are ready to advance is to test their mastery of the subject. This takes into account that for a lot of children, learning also takes places outside the classroom setting.

Adopting the proficiency-based system also gives schools the flexibility to address the needs of students at all different achievement levels. No longer are peer groups chained to each other, with students who learn quickly progressing at the same pace as those falling behind. Instead, kids learn and progress through their studies at their own pace, learning and are assessed on their progress continuously throughout.

This mix of freedom and responsibility is positively impacting both the teaching and the learning at the eleven schools studied by Nora Priest, Antonia Rudenstine and Ephraim Weisstein, the report's authors. Issues examined through the collected experiences of the participating schools include: the creation of a transparent mastery and assessment system, time flexibility, curriculum and instruction, leadership for competency education development, and the role of data and information technology in a competency-based education model.

Nicholas C. Donohue, the President and CEO of The Nellie Mae Foundation, sees the future of education in the 11 schools profiled in the report. He believes that the experience of the schools proves that it's way past the time that the one-size-fits-all model of education should be dropped in favor of an academic environment that molds to the unique needs of each student.

"We are pleased to support the movement and momentum toward rigorous and equitable opportunities for competency education, and shine a light on groundbreaking strategies to help schools and districts provide student-centered approaches to learning."

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