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Resource roundup: Competency-based education, blended learning, and credit recovery

Resource roundup: Competency-based education

By Joni Wackwitz
May 20, 2020

Teachers know that the amount of time students spend in class does not determine their mastery of course content. Competency-based education (CBE) addresses this issue by allowing students to learn and advance at their own pace. With this approach, students demonstrate mastery of competencies, or learning targets, to earn credit and progress. Research suggests this model can boost academic achievement, high school graduation rates, and college and career readiness (Anderson & Fulton, 2015; Jerald, Campbell, & Roth, 2017; Sturgis & Patrick, 2010).

Browse these resources from across the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Program and other networks to learn more about competency-based education as well as its use in online and blended learning and credit recovery.

Competency-based education

For state guidance in facilitating competency-based learning, a REL Central report summarizes selected state policies and supports related to K–12 competency-based education. The report classifies state laws and regulations into three broad policy categories: (1) credit flexibility, (2) progression flexibility, and (3) individual learning options.

A REL Northeast & Islands report draws on a scan of state-level policies and 20 interviews to describe definitions, policies, and implementation of competency-based education in the Northeast. A companion video and webinar are available.

A new REL Midwest webinar describes the relationship between competency-based education and students’ learning outcomes and how to create structures within a school or classroom to effectively implement competency-based education strategies.

Competency-based education can be a major adjustment for students. A REL Northeast & Islands guide describes how to adapt, administer, and analyze a survey to collect information about high school students’ understanding of and experiences with competency-based education. A companion video is available.

REL Southeast’s Measuring Success Through Competency-Based Learning Research Alliance in North Carolina is identifying and sharing best practices for implementing competency-based instruction at K–12 and postsecondary levels. Resources include a CBE Mastery Framework, which details major shifts in four areas of educators’ practice: structure, culture, teaching, and learning.

A REL Central study measured the academic progress of elementary and middle school students in a Colorado district’s competency-based system as well as teachers’ assessment of students’ knowledge. On average, students who were behind their traditional grade level took less time to complete performance levels than students at their traditional grade level.

REL Central’s North Dakota Innovative Schools Research Partnership, which focuses on evaluating innovative education initiatives and services, is conducting a study of the use of dedicated flex time for student-directed learning as part of a competency-based education system at Legacy High School in Bismarck. Look for the report later this year.

The Ask A REL reference desk service has compiled research citations and resources on competency-based education in response to several questions submitted from the field:

Online and blended learning

Competency-based instruction often is delivered in an online or blended learning environment. In this webinar, REL Mid-Atlantic provides an overview of blended learning and the potential of using technology in the classroom. The webinar draws on a related infographic to examine the implementation and effectiveness of blended learning, with examples from Delaware.

How much time should students engage with online courses? A REL Midwest and Virtual Education Research Alliance report examines engagement patterns and academic outcomes of students taking online courses in Wisconsin and finds that students who spent at least two hours a week engaging in the courses had better results. An infographic [55 KB PDF icon ] highlights key findings.

Struggling to keep up with new and emerging research in online education? REL Southeast provides a rundown [210 KB PDF icon ] of free sites and resources for locating the latest research on K–12 online and blended learning, with suggestions for navigating the resources.

Credit recovery

Competency-based learning is frequently used for credit recovery, which enables students to retake courses and stay on track to graduate. REL Midwest conducted an environmental scan of high school credit recovery programs and practices across Minnesota. The results are helping state leaders ensure equitable access to quality options. An infographic is also available.

Building on the above scan, an ongoing REL Midwest study is assessing the implementation of the Minnesota Alternative Learning Center Networked Improvement Community (ALC NIC), formed in 2019 to improve credit recovery practices by integrating competency-based learning strategies. The report is slated for publication in 2021. Learn more about the work of the Minnesota ALC NIC in this blog post.

Online credit recovery programs are gaining popularity due to their flexibility and ease at providing a range of subjects, even in remote areas—but are they effective? A REL Northwest report describes 2013/14 course enrollment and completion patterns for the Montana Digital Academy (MTDA), a statewide online credit recovery program. The authors find that almost 60 percent of MTDA students received a passing grade.

A REL Southeast study compared students in the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) online credit recovery program to students enrolled in other credit recovery programs in the state. Although NCVPS students were less likely than comparison students to graduate high school, NCVPS students who did graduate were more likely to do so in four years.

Can online courses compare to face-to-face instruction? A REL Southeast study analyzed success rates for online and face-to-face credit recovery and general courses at Florida high schools. The results show that the likelihood of a student earning a grade of C or better was higher online compared with face-to-face options for both credit recovery and general courses.

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Author Information

Joni Wackwitz Staff Picture

Joni Wackwitz

Senior Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


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