Promising Practices and Considerations for Districts in Competency-Based Education Webinar Questions: Part 2 –Higher Education Engagement

This post is the second in a two-part series following the webinar, “Promising Practices and Considerations for Districts in Competency-Based Education”, where presenters are responding to questions submitted by participants. The first post in this series and a brief summary of the webinar are available online.

How have you engaged the higher education community and how have students fared when they leave competency-based districts? How are grading policies adjusted to accommodate concerns about higher education admission?

Thomas Rooney: Lindsay Unified has engaged our local higher education community (CSU-Fresno) quite extensively. Doctoral students from the University recently completed a study of several competency-based models and have some very initial positive results regarding the work in Lindsay.  The leadership in the Education Department at CSU Fresno has recently become more involved and supportive of our work as we have pursued several grant opportunities together. 

While we do not have any research on following our learners after they move from Lindsay to a time-based system, the few learners with whom we have had contact tell us that the system they moved to was much easier than Lindsay and they feel as though the purpose of those other systems is to get the learners through, not ensure learning.  For some learners, they like the time-based system because it is easier to get a diploma without demonstrating learning.

Contacts we have with higher education institutions are all positive with regard to our performance-based system.  Once the IHE receives an explanation of what the scores mean, they are actually more inclined to accept a Lindsay High School graduate.  Universities know very well that there are significant differences in what scores mean from one school to the next and they also know that many traditional high schools do not prepare learners to succeed at the University level, which is why so much emphasis is placed on the SAT/ACT and/or the college entrance exams.  We often forget that Universities take international and home-schooled learners, who are often taught and graded in a very different manner than a traditional time-based high school.  If a University or a student scholarship application requires some sort of GPA, we do have a conversion method to provide a traditional "GPA."

Linda Laughlin: We have representatives from higher education in our cohort (Maine Cohort for Customized Learning). We have also met with representatives of our teacher preparation programs. Some of our teachers who mentor student-teachers have been invited to talk with classes of teacher-preparation candidates. We have not implemented enough to have generated data on how our students are doing after leaving a competency-based district. So far, the grading policies that have been adjusted to accommodate concerns about higher education admission have involved the need to convert proficiency-based data to generate a GPA for students. We have an ongoing conversation with admission personnel across the New England region to determine the important aspects and characteristics of our performance based transcripts.

RAND: One goal of competency-based education is to increase the transparency of what students know and are able to do. Nevertheless, when districts certify student learning in a way that is unfamiliar to higher education systems, misunderstanding can ensue. Districts and schools must take responsibility for ensuring that students’ knowledge is documented in a way that higher education institutions and employers can understand, but state policymakers also have an important role to play in endorsing transcripts based on competency-based models. In the long run, competency-based credentials can be validated by graduates’ performance on college entrance examinations, by their postsecondary performance and completion rates, and by their success in the broader community and workforce.

Andrew Valent is a Program Associate at the American Youth Policy Forum.

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