Competency vs. Mastery vs. Proficiency

//Competency vs. Mastery vs. Proficiency

I am knee deep in the competency world and have read everything I can find about how to define this work.  Is it Competency-based education, or Mastery-based Education or Proficiency-based Education?  All of these terms are being used interchangeably, but do they really mean the same thing?  I don’t think that they do.

Here is the way I am thinking about it.  The term Competency-based Education, for me, is not about “being competent”.  It is bigger than that.  It is about this fundamental shift in teaching and learning that measures individual learning rather than measuring seat time.   Competencies are created to define sets of knowledge, skills, concepts and mindsets that learners need to know and be able to do.  Learners progress once they have demonstrated mastery of competencies, not after a set amount of time in a course.

Mastery and proficiency then are about assessing and achieving competencies.  Learners must demonstrate their proficiency in a competency and multiple demonstrations of proficiency lead to mastery of that competency.

So how are we defining this work?  We are developing a Competency-based Educational Model in which students progress toward a degree or certification based on their ability to demonstrate mastery of a comprehensive set of skills, knowledge, behaviors and mindsets at multiple times in multiple ways.

Click here for a more in depth look at the working definition of Competency Education.

By |2014-02-21T23:08:24+00:00February 21st, 2014|Uncategorized|3 Comments


  1. Karen Foster March 18, 2014 at 6:40 PM - Reply

    Hi Sandra,
    What do you think of the idea that students’ ability to “transfer” a skill or utilize an area of content knowledge in an unfamiliar context as an indicator of mastery?


  2. Ellen Clay March 30, 2014 at 3:43 PM - Reply


    I love the idea of competency rather than seat time. I wonder how we can move the conversation from competency at solving individual problems to using the problems at our disposal to build competency in the mathematical ideas or the things of real life that the textbooks are attempting to model, such as a real understanding of counting and measuring of quantities and then the relationships between these quantities or how those quantities change in relationship to each other. If we can make this move together, a move towards competency of mathematical ideas rather than bringing the conversation of competency to solving individual problems and then having to make another shift towards competency of the mathematical ideas, we will allow students to make sense of the mathematics that underlies both the curriculum and the real world at the same time.

  3. […] I am excited to share, on a personal and school design note, that I have spent the past year working for Building21, a start-up, competency-based high school model opening as a Philadelphia School District school partnership in the fall of 2014. Their work is extremely interesting and represents a significant advancement in the field. I will write more about it in upcoming posts. In the meantime, check out the building21 blog, which is in itself both interesting and important. See for example, the thoughtful work they are doing with the language of competency and mastery. […]

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