America / Culture / Education / Politics / U.S. Domestic Policy

Changes in the Classroom Dynamics: Competency Based Education

We can all remember sitting in a hot, stuffy classroom crammed with twenty-plus other kids, staring mindlessly at the front board as a teacher droned on about a math concept or a grammar rule that you personally fully understood. The boredom is suffocating and the engagement is next to nothing.

When already knowledgeable about a subject, humans tend to tune out instead of engage. The classroom is no exception from this trend. Students are people too and when they already know something they tend to tune out just like everybody else. So why does the current education system and curriculum choose to ignore this basic human tendency? A majority of curriculum in place today is a one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter model that measures educational achievement in a similar manner.

Students are placed in cohorts based on their birth-dates and then thrown into a grade level with children who are similarly aged to them but not necessarily similarly skilled. When we remove this concept from the arena of education, it appears a tad ridiculous: we are going to teach people in groups based on how old they are, not their level of previous achievement, their level of education or their level of competency. In any other sphere we would deem this absurd and inefficient.  People must be challenged in order to learn, and in order to be challenged new ideas have to be presented.

These new ideas that foster learning are not being presented in the classroom because children are being corralled into learning groups that are not achievement-based and are weighing children of all abilities down. By forcing children of different achievement levels to learn together, students of all spectrums are being harmed. If a student is having a hard time grasping an idea, they are inhibited because the teacher cannot fully focus on the issue. If the student already understands the majority of the curriculum, they are hindered because they cannot move on and encounter more challenging content.

When discussing education, the lack of evolution is not confined to the classroom. For the most part, new ideas are not being presented in the discussion about education reform and the same worn out ideas are being rehashed to no avail. The discussion is stale overall, much like the air in current classrooms. However, there are quiet rumblings of a new idea that would address both of these issues. It is called Competency-Based Assessment Education.

Competency-Based Assessment Education, or learning, is an approach to education that advances students based upon their demonstration of mastery of a subject, not based on their completion of hours in a classroom.

This new learning style highlights advancement based on student mastery of ideas, meaningful assessment and learning experiences that foster the application and creation of knowledge. It differentiates learning paces for different student needs and learning objectives that are clear, measurable and transferable in order to empower students in real world activities. This new idea seeks to provide students with freedom and flexibility in their own personal education, creating an “individualized education environment.” This way each student can fully understand every aspect of a subject before moving on as well as appropriately challenge themselves, remaining interested and engaged in their education. This will allow students to remain interested in their education by avoiding the boredom factor to a much greater extent, which will hopefully reduce learning gaps in grade levels and improve the chances of children graduating and reaching college more prepared for the realities of the work force.

Without a vibrant debate offering a wide range of new options for the American education system, it is likely that the status quo will remain in tact. However, with possible ideas such as Competency-Based Assessment, change could be on the horizon. New ideas must be experimented with now because if we fail to address the faults of the current system, which is not allowing for the success of all students and is in fact hindering many, results will stay the same. With new ideas, new possibilities can be opened to our students  allowing them to reach new levels of achievement.