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Operation Polaris, Superintendent Truitt's vision for North Carolina public schools, has recently been updated and has expanded the state's original emphasis on personalized learning to specifically call out Competency-Based Education (CBE). The definition of CBE used in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) report was developed by the Regional Education Laboratory Southeast's Measuring Success through Competency-Based Learning research alliance in collaboration with NCDPI and other NC school and district partners. Competency-Based Education is "a personalized learning approach that provides a flexible and engaging learning environment in which progression is based on mastery of explicit learning objectives, or competencies, as demonstrated through evidence of student learning, rather than the time spent in a course/topic." The definition will guide the agency's work as it implements Competency-Based Education in the state.
As a personalized learning approach, CBE provides a flexible and engaging learning environment in which progression is based on mastery of explicit learning objectives, or competencies, as demonstrated through evidence of student learning, rather than the time spent in a course/topic.
Moving forward, educators must work to meet students where they are in their learning. Meeting the diverse needs of learners is a constant challenge that can be alleviated through personalized learning practices. Pane and his RAND Corporation colleagues (2017) define personalized learning as "[prioritizing] a clear understanding of the needs and goals of each individual student and the tailoring of instruction to address those needs and goals." Later in a 2018 article, Pane noted that there was "a long history of educators striving to meet students' individual needs and incorporating their interests and preferences into instruction." CBE, and other personalized learning options, are essential to meeting diverse student needs and making learning relevant to students. Making learning purposeful and meaningful can increase students' interests and can make them more likely to engage and succeed with learning rigorous content (Hulleman & Harackiewicz, 2009).
As a personalized learning model, CBE provides a flexible and engaging learning environment in which progression is based on mastery of explicit learning objectives, or competencies, as demonstrated through evidence of student learning, rather than simply the time spent in a course/topic. In a paper published through iNACOL, now the Aurora Institute, "Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed" provides information about personalized learning and CBE, and also offers a framework for equity in CBE, including nine equity principles to serve as a guide for creating a CBE system that effectively serves all students. These nine principles that guide equity are much the same as those that guide quality and include principles such as a strong culture of learning and inclusivity; transparency about learning, progress, and pace; and consistency of expectations of proficiency. CBE is still in development, but there are strong advocates for the work and growing movement with emerging evidence of success. The paper concludes that "personalized, competency-based systems have the ability to empower individuals and enable educators to disrupt the historical dynamic of sorting students and replace it with one that seeks to educate 100% of students" (Sturgis & Casey, 2018).
NCDPI, as well as educators interested in implementing CBE, have expressed a need for a network that allows them to consider and discuss critical factors and evidence-based practices for the design and implementation of CBE programs. This network or community of practice would make it possible to understand the impact and reach of these strategies across the state and enable schools and districts to collaboratively create programs. According to an essay from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, "Networks enable individuals from many different contexts to participate according to their interests and expertise while sustaining collective attention on progress toward common goals (Bryk, Gomez, and Grunow, 2010)."
Building on work of the Measuring Success through Competency-Based Learning research alliance which developed the CBE definition, the North Carolina Competency-Based Education (NC CBE) Partnership, formed last year, focuses on sharing and discussing evidence-based practices related to the design and implementation of CBE. Initial partnership members include the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), Cherokee County Schools, Granville County Schools, Johnston County Public Schools' Virtual Academy, Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies (NEAAAT), and North Edgecombe High School (NEHS). Each of the partner schools and districts are in various stages of implementing personalized CBE. The NC CBE partnership will provide a community of practice for them to share research, evidenced-based practices, and lessons learned from the implementation process. As they move toward full implementation of CBE, the partner schools and districts can serve as models of practice for others.
The NC CBE Partnership will utilize the CBE Mastery Framework, also developed as part of that prior work, as well as updated information from new research, to support partnership member needs related to transitioning to a competency-based approach. The CBE Mastery Framework identifies Structure, Culture, Teaching, and Learning as key drivers for change in making this transition at all levels and will serve as a tool to help determine the baseline metrics of what partners know about CBE, where they are in their current understanding and/or implementation, and what they need to transition to CBE.
To learn more about the NC CBE Partnership, or the work of the REL Southeast, please contact the Partnership Director, Laura Knapp at email@example.com.
Bryk A. S., Gomez L. M., & Grunow A. (2010). Getting ideas into action: Building networked improvement communities in education. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Stanford, CA. http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/spotlight/webinar-bryk-gomez-building-networked-improvement-communities-in-education
Hulleman, C. S., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2009). Promoting interest and performance in high school science classes. Science, 326(5958), 1410–1412. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1177067
Pane, J.F. (2018) Strategies for implementing personalized learning while evidence and resources are underdeveloped. RAND Corporation. Santa Monica, CA. https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE314.html
Pane, J. F., Steiner, E. D., Baird, M. D., Hamilton, L. S., & Pane, J. D. (2017). How does personalized learning affect student achievement? RAND Corporation. Santa Monica, CA. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9994.html
Sturgis, C., & Casey, K. (2018). Designing for equity: Leveraging competency-based education to ensure all students succeed. CompetencyWorks. https://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/CompetencyWorks-DesigningForEquity.pdf
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