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Where we started

In 2013, we began to design our school model and we came up with our design principles. We knew we wanted to personalize pathways through high school for students but the traditional course-based and time-based approach wouldn’t work. We wanted students to be able to earn “credit” anywhere, anytime. We knew that the field of competency-based education was beginning to replace time-based structures. We adopted the following five-part definition from the Aurora Institute:

  • Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

Our revised definition

In the model we were designing, we wanted students to be able to learn outside of the walls of the school building. We wanted them to work on authentic projects with industry partners and to learn independently outside of traditional structures like courses. To account for this in the definition, we added a sixth part:

  • Mastery of competencies is tracked and validated outside of traditional time-based courses and credits. Mastery credits are earned when students complete their competency requirements (e.g. body of work, portfolio system, evidence pieces, etc.).

In other words, students can demonstrate mastery and progress at different paces through a variety of experiences. A school could offer a mix of traditional and non-traditional courses but the completion of a course does not necessarily mean a student receives credit. In this example, courses are the vehicle to offer students opportunities to demonstrate mastery. To learn more about how we implemented this in our model, check out this recorded webinar.

Another concept that we felt necessary to define further was mastery. The seventh part to our revised definition is:

  • Mastery is on a continuum of readiness which requires students to demonstrate proficiency of a competency multiple times in multiple ways.

We think of mastery not as a defined level that all students must reach; for us, mastery sits on a continuum of readiness. Each level of mastery transparently defines what a student needs to do to get to the next level, eventually reaching college and career readiness. Only upon readiness does a student advance to the next level. To learn more about how we implemented this concept of mastery, click here.

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