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Pass or Fail: A Competency-Based Approach to Learning

What would you say if your child’s school stopped giving him or her credit for completing homework assignments or showing up for class? That’s exactly what’s happening in some of the nation’s schools, including public schools in Missouri.

Competency-based education is a new trend that’s expected to continue to grow, and it has many names; proficiency-based education, mastery-based education, standards-based learning, and performance-based education, to name a few.

A recent story on stltoday.com summed competency-based learning up nicely when it said, “At the heart of standards-based grading is the thought that students should be awarded grades for demonstrating they have mastered a subject — not for the work they completed along the way.”

Stltoday.com was covering competency-based learning because several area school districts, including Rockwood, Parkway, and Pattonville have introduced competency-based learning models in recent years.

Parent and teacher feedback on the models have been mixed.

Katie Nease, a content facilitator in Rockwood, told stltoday.com that, “once I made that shift, it was remarkable the changes that I saw in the classroom. For some student, getting a zero was a pass out. This sends a message that your learning is important.” (source)

Becky Stevenson, a Eureka High School English teacher, was also interviewed by stltoday.com. She said that while she still gives feedback on homework assignments, homework isn’t calculated in her students’ final grades. The result, says Stevenson, is that students are showing a new desire to learn (instead of focusing on grades).

Parents and teachers have voiced concerns over standards-based learning, too. Parents are concerned that students may become lax in completing homework assignments when grades are assigned for that homework. Some teachers have expressed concerned that by not assigning homework grades, schools aren’t teaching students the valuable life and career lessons of meeting deadlines and doing good work.

One St. Charles school, Lincoln Elementary, has seen concrete benefits after shifting to a competency-based learning model. Before standards-based learning, the majority of Lincoln Elementary’s students failed state tests. In 2013, 71% passed state reading tests, and more than twice as many students (80%) passed state math tests as in 2010.

What do you think? Leave a comment today on the Missouri Parent Blog.


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