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Grading the Competency Model

June 19, 2013

“We’re in a place right now with the forces of global competitiveness, the adoption of common core, all of these new learning models, and the desire to do student-centered, personalized learning—you can’t really do that in a time-based system,” says Susan D. Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

The idea behind competency models is that a student studies a topic until it is mastered then advances to the next topic.  In theory, this assures that as each student advances in a school system, he will be ready for the next challenge.  No longer will students advance with gaps in their core competencies.  This appeals to me.

In practice, this would require a dramatic restructuring of our schools.  Thirty or fifteen children moving through a syllabus at speeds that assure mastery will finish at different times.  Some will finish in May and others in September.  To properly implement a competency model, a school system would have to abandon the calendar year.  So far, public schools have been unwilling to do this.  The result is a mulligan based education system.  In a mulligan based education system, children keep taking tests until they get a passing grade — which is not the same as becoming competent.

Two bad things happen in a mulligan model…

  1. Kids don’t try as hard to do well because they know they can get a mulligan
  2. Kids fall behind as they expend time re-taking tests

The failure of the mulligan system is most apparent in math classes.  A child that does not learn a basic skill in week one will not be able to use that skill to solve more complex problems in week two.  If it takes an extra week to learn the first skill, he will be working on week two’s assignments without the proper foundation.  In all likelihood, he will be unsuccessful and will take longer to master week two’s lesson.  If he gets a mulligan on that, he will not have the tools for week three.

Enroll the same kid in a Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) math class.  If it takes him two weeks to master week one’s lesson, he starts week two’s lesson in week three.  If he takes three semesters to complete Algebra I that’s OK.  VLACS also offers ‘competency recovery’ which lets students supplement traditional classes with smaller classes designed to address gaps in mastery.

If your student does not move at the standard Timberlane pace, you may find VLACS a better fit.  A less time constrained approach may turn your frustrated math laggard into a star.


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