Competency-Based Key Moves: Beginning with the Learner | Devin Vodicka | 2 Min Read

We need to begin with our learners. Historically, we’ve taken an outside-in approach in education, beginning with the needs of policymakers and working from there to implement assessment systems “to” students. We need to reverse that approach and begin with the learners.  We must start by designing to inform learning and then move to accountability once we are confident that we’ve achieved the primary purpose of empowering our students. 

By orienting first to our learners, we ensure that the utility of the assessment is optimized for the person who stands to benefit the most. In addition, by beginning with the learner we can shift from the student being a passive recipient of an externally-imposed assessment to an active, co-constructor of assessment as part of a meaningful learning cycle.

Just as the inputs are different in the emerging post-industrial, competency-based system, so too are the outputs — the “learner records.” Unlike report cards or transcripts that are historically organized by subjects or courses, the post-industrial, learner-centered system is also organized around the learner. Holistic learner profiles, digital portfolios, and other portable learner records are designed to inform ongoing learning. We are on the cusp of an era where students will have a “data backpack” that will transform into a “digital briefcase” where their learning will extend beyond school on a cradle to career journey that focuses on lifelong learning.

Shifting to a new model of measurement requires a number of key shifts, including a critical reorientation away from time as the driving force to attainment of competency as our primary orientation.  Importantly, the purpose of the feedback must also shift to informing learning as opposed to how we have conventionally used grades and test scores for ranking, sorting, and selecting.  

For those interested in making these key shifts, here are some suggested actions:

  • Develop a learner profile (sometimes called a graduate profile) to gain clarity on what matters most in your local environment.  
  • Work with students to develop self-generated goals. 
  • Implement student-led parent conferences.
  • Schedule learning exhibitions to create an authentic audience for students to reflect on their progress. 
  • Incorporate peer feedback and educator observation feedback to augment self-reflection and provide a more holistic view into the development of every learner.  Advisory and mentoring programs can be helpful structures.  

In addition, the journey to implement competency-based education should be a collaborative process to accelerate our collective progress.  When I was a Superintendent, we sent teams of educators to visit Lindsay Unified School District’s competency-based educational model and it was a catalyst for rapid changes.  I strongly encourage school visits as a way to promote and inspire meaningful professional learning.  

Networking through personal learning networks on social media is another excellent way to connect.  I am hopeful that you’ll connect with me and with others through twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, blogs, and other sharing platforms.  I look forward to learning together as we build a movement to reimagine what is possible for all learners.  We envision a world where all learners have agency, skills to collaborate with others, and opportunities to engage in solving problems that matter to them and their world. Reorienting our measurement and assessment systems to ones that are focused on learning will be essential to create educational ecosystems that bring that vision to life.  

Devin Vodicka

Devin Vodicka is the CEO of Learner-Centered Collaborative and the author of Learner-Centered Leadership. He is also three-time California superintendent of the year (2016 AASA, 2015 ACSA, 2015 Pepperdine), Innovative Superintendent of the Year (2014 Classroom of the Future Foundation), and nine-time White House invitee, both in recognition for district-wide achievement, and to advise and partner with the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Educational Technology and Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.

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