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Competency Based Learning – Explanation and Opinions

| Jemma Schroder | jshcroder20@dtechhs.org | October 7, 2019 |

Known for its constantly shifting rules and fluid schedules, d.tech is undeniably a dynamic school. However, the switch to a Competency-Based Learning system, first implemented in the fall of 2019, is one of the biggest changes d.tech has ever implemented.

Competency-Based Learning, otherwise known as CBL, is a system that personalizes each student’s learning based on their needs and prior knowledge. It aims to ensure that students are more focused on learning the skills themselves and less on the number of points or letter grades for each individual assignment. In a way, d.tech has always been a school with the goals CBL. However, in the minds of d.tech students, the new grading changes and more formalized name have designated it as an entirely new and unexpected change. 

In a nutshell, CBL works like this. Classes have a set number of outcomes that every student needs to meet in order to pass. Every assignment during the year will be graded in terms of at least one outcome. For example, in an English class, an outcome may be “grammar.” During the year, every assignment a student turns in will be graded in parts, a.k.a outcomes, one of which will be “grammar.” If a student writes a grammatically perfect essay which makes no sense, they could earn a 4 on the grammar outcome and a 1 on every other outcome, instead of just failing the assignment as a whole.

Table of CBL outcome to grade chart. Provided by d.tech Staff

As each semester progresses, however, the assignments end up meaning more. This makes logical sense: the more practice you get on using correct grammar, the better your grammar will be. This is where the term “decaying (or weighted) average” comes in. Each consecutive assignment – or outcome grade – matters more and more as you accumulate more information and practice in your classes. At the end of the semester, Canvas weights the most recent grade for each outcome at 65%, then averages the remaining grades to fill the remaining 35%. The final grade conversion is calculated using the chart below:

How CBL is supposed to work. Provided by Roxie Baggott

For d.tech, this new system is associated with mass confusion and varied perspectives. “It seems like a good step forward for d.tech,” explains junior Zoe Flemate. “I know that a lot of people – including teachers – are confused right now, but hopefully it’ll clear up as we move into actual coursework.” Flemate believes that the way to reduce most, if not all, the confusion is through learning by doing. 

Along with the implementation of true Competency-Based Learning came the overhaul of d.tech’s long-standing revision policy, a tradition allowing students to revise any of their work for up to full credit. The new policy states that both late and missing work will receive a 1 on all associated outcomes. However, while this policy may be gone on paper, some students argue that it still exists. “Mr. Groat has given kids…kind of revisions,” clarifies senior Aaron Tung, “and Mr. Pierce lets you check in with him before the due date, so…the revision policy isn’t really gone, it’s just been reduced a bit.” 

Within the freshman class, who haven’t experienced d.tech’s past grading and revision systems, opinions are varied. According to freshman Bobby Churchill, “[CBL] might actually increase stress…I feel like I’m failing all my classes because I don’t know what my grade is.” Indeed, while Canvas does show the grades for specific assignments, it is out of a four-point rubric and isn’t translated to the percentage grade that we all know, love, and hate. However, this sentiment doesn’t hold true for all freshmen. “It does reduce the stress,” expresses freshman Nate Friedman. “I can just try my best and not have to worry about my grades.”

While the effectiveness of Competency Based Learning has yet to be determined, it is vital that everyone – both students and teachers alike – band together and remain steadfast during this time of acclimation. Nicole Cerra, Director of Curriculum and a key contributor to the development of the CBL system, hopes that if nothing else, students know two key things about CBL: “the points they get on the rubric do not [directly]convert to a percentage” and “…colleges are not going to see [the outcome grades] – that never goes on the transcript.”

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