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CBE Part VI: Time is Variable, Mastery of Skills is Constant

December 30, 2014

Just before Christmas blogger Audrey Watters posted an essay titled “What is Competency Based Education” that defined that term as follows:

Rather than moving students together through materials for a fixed duration of a class, CBE enables students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They are assessed along the way, and if they can demonstrate “competency” on a particular skill, they can move forward to the next. This is seen as an alternative to traditional models where students receive a grade — and credit — at the end of the course, but that grade can range from A to D, meaning that students have attained very different levels of understanding of the course materials.

I’ve used a set of questions she posed at the end of that article to write a series on the topic of CBE, which is the instructional backbone for what I call “Network Schools”. This post is part of that series.

While CBE promises to change things like “seat time,” does it necessarily change other traditional outcomes of school? Is it still focused, for example, on the things that are “measurable”?

Assessment necessarily requires some kind of measurement… but MASTERY assessment tends to be binary. Thus, CBE schools will not rank students using the current system of “grades” that presumably indicate the percentage of information a student has mastered. Nor will CBE schools compare students to other age peers in “grade level” cohorts based on their rate-of-speed of learning. Instead CBE schools will provide each student with individual feedback on the progress they are making in achieving the fundamental competencies identified in the NCC and/or those set forth by post secondary institutions or employers.

As noted in previous posts, students would be expected to demonstrate mastery of “soft skills” like attract thinking and interpersonal skills. Students would demonstrate mastery of these skills by exhibiting them to the satisfaction of their advisor-coach and/or peers.


In CBE schools, time will be variable and the attainment of mastery will be constant… not the other way around.

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