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Taking steps toward competency-based education

Taking steps toward competency-based education

By Cora Goldston
September 27, 2021

How can teachers ensure that all students have an opportunity to truly master the material? Traditional teaching and testing methods may not help all students build and demonstrate deep understanding. As an alternative, some states, districts, and schools are exploring competency-based education (CBE) approaches. CBE focuses on student mastery of content, allowing teachers to provide flexible learning opportunities, pacing, and grading methods. CBE generally includes several components, such as adjustable pacing, personalized learning goals, and individualized support for students (Haynes et al., 2016).

Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest has been working with the Minnesota Department of Education and other members of the Midwest Career Readiness Research Alliance to support CBE implementation. Read on to learn about REL Midwest’s CBE resources and work.

Infographic: What elements define CBE? What does CBE look like in the classroom?

At the request of the Minnesota Department of Education, REL Midwest developed an infographic that provides an overview of CBE for teachers and school leaders who are interested in trying CBE practices but may not know where to start. The infographic uses a seven-element framework, developed by the CompetencyWorks initiative, to highlight approaches to CBE (for example, providing differentiated support for each student and relying on evidence of mastery versus using time in class to determine student progress). The infographic also illustrates how Minnesota schools and districts are putting each CBE element into practice. For example, to support students in using different pathways and pacing, some Minnesota schools allow students to keep working on a project after an initial deadline.

Training for District 191: How can districts implement CBE and encourage staff to try CBE practices?

REL Midwest hosted a three-part CBE training series for Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 (in Minnesota). The purpose of the training was to help district staff understand CBE and related strategies, identify appropriate strategies for their context, and develop plans to implement those strategies. REL Midwest also shared guidance for encouraging other staff members to buy in and implement CBE strategies. The materials from the first, second, and third training sessions are available on the REL Midwest website.

Documentary: Using data to enact change

A REL Midwest documentary highlights our networked improvement community (NIC) of Minnesota Area Learning Centers, which tested a CBE practice (student goal setting) toward the goal of increasing credit recovery and graduation rates. Area Learning Centers serve students who are working to recover credit or who need support that may not be available at traditional schools. A previous REL Midwest blog post describes how the practice is showing early progress.

Does REL Midwest have other CBE-related resources?

Yes! If you are curious about CBE practices, implementation, or research, REL Midwest has several resources that may be helpful:


Haynes, E., Zeiser, K., Surr, W., Hauser, A., Clymer, L., Walston, J., Bitter, C., & Yang, R. (2016). Looking under the hood of competency-based education: The relationship between competency-based education practices and students’ learning skills, behaviors, and dispositions. Nellie Mae Foundation.

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Author information

Cora Goldston Staff Picture

Cora Goldston

Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


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