Exploring the Paths Toward Competency-Based Learning - Digital Promise

Exploring the Paths Toward Competency-Based Learning

April 21, 2014 | By

We have an unprecedented opportunity to personalize learning through technology – to meet students at their own skill level, interests, and environment. And yet, how we judge what students “know” in education has largely remained the same. In most schools, students advance based on the time they spend in a seat or the grade they get on a test. That’s starting to change. Thirty-nine states have passed seat-time waivers or laws allowing competency-based education, in which students are awarded credit for mastering skills.

The Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools recently hosted a summit in Washington, D.C., featuring school district leaders, policy experts, and teachers working to personalize education in meaningful ways. Attendees shared their definitions of competency-based education, heard from educators applying these principles on the ground, and developed action plans to pursue competency-based education models individually, with each other, and through Digital Promise.

For a full summary of these discussions and outcomes, read our report from the summit.

At the summit, we learned:

  • When students take ownership of learning, they can not only reach measurable outcomes but also acquire soft skills like grit and perseverance.
  • Teachers report that a competency-based approach can enable more purposeful interactions with each student because each of their goals are more clearly defined.
  • In competency-based environments, students can choose to go forward or go deeper once they have achieved a goal. School is no longer a march toward a grade.
  • It can be challenging to implement competency-based education in environments that still adhere to traditional culture, grading systems, and school schedules.
  • If used to measure what a student truly can do, assessment can be meaningful and continuous, not grueling and high-stakes.

To advance Digital Promise’s and the workshop participants’ work in this area, we identified three areas for action that could help schools explore competency-based models:

  • External communications and resources for CBE
  • From ideas to action: getting started with CBE
  • CBE at the high school level


This workshop was convened in response to the shared set of interests and priorities identified by educators, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders at our spring League of Innovative Schools meeting.

Competency-based Education Resources:

For more information on competency-based education, check out the resources below.

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