Characteristics of Competency-Based Learning

Time is not a barrier to learning

There is no pre-determined timetable for a student enrolled in a competency-based education program. Instead, students take the time needed to adequately understand and comprehend the course material. And while acceleration is allowed, a student who requires extra time to meet a competency is also acceptable.

All students are held to high standards

Students enrolled in competency-based education are all held to a high standard and are expected to meet the same goals. Students are expected to work at a pace that meets their academic needs which means that students will master competencies at different times. For instance, in a traditional school model a student is able to overcome a failing test grade by hoping that other test grades will sufficiently increase the overall course average above passing; it also means that a key competency has not been mastered. In a competency-based setting, students continue working on the concepts and skills they did not master until they demonstrate understanding. In a competency-based school the goal is not to earn a “good enough” grade to advance. It’s about truly understanding something so that the knowledge is retained for the long term, not the short term.

Failure is not an option

If a student is willing to do the work, the concept of failure does not exist within a competency-based education. In a competency-based school a student may still fall short of demonstrating competency on an exam or project, but he/she will not be labeled a “failure.” Much like the bar exam, the real estate licensure exam, or a driver’s test, each assessment serves a dual purpose of measuring competency and/or identifying areas that still need attention. For students in a competency-based school failure is replaced with “not ready yet” and students know that teachers are available to help them succeed.

For students taking VLACS courses, competency is measured by a student passing specified competency assignments, including projects, papers, exams, or quizzes, with a grade of 85 or better and having greater than a 60% average in the course. Students are allowed multiple attempts on assignments and are supported by their VLACS instructor as they work to demonstrate their understanding of the course competencies. Projects and experiences are assessed using a rubric on a 3-point scale: approaches competency; meets competency; or exceeds competency.

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