Competency Based Education: A Clear Advantage

Give competency-based education a chance

What if students earned college credit for what they learn and can do, rather than the amount of time they spend sitting in a classroom seat?
A movement is starting around the country to do just that. Programs that have adopted “competency-based” education allow students to work at their own pace and progress by mastering the knowledge and skills required for a particular course, regardless of how long it takes.  This growing trend is particularly important because it provides an avenue to increase innovation and access to higher education while potentially decreasing the cost of a college degree.
Over the last decade, the cost of a college degree has skyrocketed. Average annual costs at public colleges and universities have seen more than a 100 percent increase — from $6,592 in 1964-65 to $13,297 in 2010-11. Similar trends can be seen at private institutions and two-year programs.

As Congress considers the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, this project is more crucial than ever. In 1998, Congress recognized the importance of the growing trend toward distance education and the opportunity for students to learn online. Now, we once again have the opportunity to study competency-based education to learn about the statutory and regulatory changes necessary to allow more students access to these programs.

Instead of relying on temporary fixes to help reduce college tuition and ease student debt, institutions should develop innovative ways to offer students a quality education at a more affordable price. Our legislation will not only provide additional methods of high-quality higher education, it will improve access for a growing population of Americans still in search of their dream.

Read the entire article by Jared Polis and Matt Salmon on The Hill at
Polis has represented Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District since 2009 and serves on the Education and the Workforce, and the Rules committees. Salmon is a freshman member representing Arizona’s 5th Congressional District and serves on the Education and the Workforce, and the Foreign Affairs committees.

Competency-Based Grading and Common Core Math: A Perfect Match?

Over the summer I spent the day with my math team as we prepared for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics into our school. We were working on an intense math problem when I had one of those uh-huh moments – the kind I used to describe to my students when I taught high school math in Andover, Massachusetts. The problem was a simple one to understand, but it had many layers of complexity to it for math teachers:

Imagine you are a peasant, and your ruler told you that you could have as much land as you could mark off by walking in one day. What is the most amount of land you could reasonably claim? Give your answer in square miles and be prepared to support and defend your work.

For a math teacher, CCSSM is going to cause a major shift in how instruction is delivered. Gone are the days when it was enough for students to be able to recall facts and perform very basic mathematical operations on summative assessments. Gone are the days when the word problems at the end of a test would be ones in which students would be simply asked to take information and apply a formula. With the age of CCSSM, students will be called upon regularly to complete performance tasks – extended, complex problems that will challenge students at high levels, with multiple answers depending on how the student chooses to set up the problem. And it will focus students on supporting and defending their work. The problem I referenced at the beginning of this article is one that can be turned into a great performance task for students in middle or high school.The new challenge for schools across the country is figuring out how best to implement and support CCSSM. Schools that have moved to a proficiency or competency-based system will have a clear advantage.

Read the entire article by Brian Stack on CompetencyWorks at

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