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National Association of State Directors of Career
Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc)

Spring Meeting: Competency-based education gaining momentum at state level

Time, place and pace are three elements that have defined the traditional education model. However, a growing number of states are moving toward competency-based education (CBE), which insists that time isn’t a constant, place doesn’t decide who gets an education and pace should be determined by the student and the educator.

Panelists at NASDCTEC’s 2014 Spring Meeting panel, “Other Views: Competency Based Education and CTE,” discussed the growing CBE movement and its application in Career Technical Education (CTE). While panelists agreed that well-structured CBE can be an important tool in the delivery of high-quality CTE, most also agreed that CBE continues to face serious challenges related to public perception and general function before it can become a widely accepted practice.

The CBE learning model judges student success based on their mastery of skills, rather than the amount of time spent in class. Students are required to demonstrate technical proficiency before progressing to a new unit, the next grade level or graduation.

NASDCTEc/NCTEF Board President John Fischer outlined Vermont’s recent experience with CBE in its secondary schools. As his state moved towards a CBE system, state education leaders quickly realized that they needed to attack simultaneously issues of practice and public will, Fischer explained. As a result of these efforts, the Vermont Board of Education approved new Education Quality Standards last year.

Fischer said Vermont’s experience indicates that there is a place for CTE to help show how a competency-based system can help increase attainment and show that deeper learning is occurring.

Panelist Eve Goldberg, Senior Research and Policy Associate at The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, added that states are taking a variety of routes to CBE, including Maine, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Kentucky.  The Nellie Mae Foundation, whose mission is to reshape public education across New England, also supports the website competencyworks.org, a new online resource for CBE information, practitioner knowledge, and materials.

Postsecondary institutions have been more open to CBE but typically in its more traditional format, said panelist David Bergeron, Vice President for Postsecondary Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. However, he cited a handful of schools that are doing transformative work with CBE including Sarah Lawrence College, College for America, Western Governors University and Capella University. He indicated that these institutions had continued to innovate in postsecondary CBE in spite of structural challenges with the credit-based financial aid system currently in place at the U.S. Department of Education and suggested that this system would have to change for a postsecondary education to fully embrace CBE.

Bergeron also signaled that accountability is a critical piece of the puzzle at both the secondary and postsecondary levels. He suggested that federal accrediting agencies responsible for maintaining accountability for Title IV eligible institutions could partner with the business community to help determine institutional quality.

Goldberg said she is seeing similar alignment with the K-12 system and the business community. She pointed to New Hampshire’s Sanborn Regional High School as an example because the school reached out to regional employers while creating its four career pathways programs.

Andrea Zimermann, State Policy Associate

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