A recent study posted in USA Today College stated that “in a survey of 2,001 students or recent graduates -? 18- to 24-year-olds -? and 1 ,OHO hiring managers, fewer than two in five hiring managers who had interviewed recent graduates in the past two years found them prepared for a job in their field of study. ” (Dhotis USA Today College) These alarming numbers have caused a public outcry from college professors, employers, parents and also the students themselves, who criticize the public school system for their apparent failures.
Politicians responded by passing legislation designed, at least in theory, to insure that all students were receiving a quality education and were prepared with at least the basic “survival skills” or “competencies” needed to be a productive member of society and the idea of competency-based education was born. Officially, the United States Office of Education defines competency-based education, also referred to as CUBE, as “a performance-based process leading to demonstrated mastery of basic and life skills necessary for the individual to function proficiently in society. (Savage 555) In a competency-based instructional system, students are given credit for performing to a pre- specified level of competency under pre-specified conditions. This differs greatly from a normative system in which students are graded based on their level of performance in reference to the “norm” or average performance bevels of other students. In a competency- based system, students ability is determined independently from other students at that particular institution.
Proponents for a competency-based system claim that it will help to clearly define graduation requirements and expectations, which will lead to increased accountability for teachers, parents and students in working towards these goals. It will also insure that students leaving these institutions have reached these pre;specified competencies and have at least the basic minimal skills necessary to function in society.
However, opponents to impotency-based education claim that there are still many flaws to the system that have been completely overlooked, or that those who have already attempted to implement a competency-based system have failed to address, and for these reasons a competency-based system cannot work. In this seminar paper, I would like to further explore the current controversy over the implementation of competency-based education systems at both the high school and the college levels. Ill begin with a discussion of the advantages of a competency-based system of education before moving on to the challenges facing the implementation of this kind of system. Finally, would like to analyze the debate from an educator’s standpoint and draw some final conclusions regarding this issue as it pertains to my current practice. When researching for this seminar paper, read a number of articles presenting different arguments and perspectives on the issue of competency- based education. What I found is that many of them shared common opinions as to the benefits or issues with a competency-based system.
For the purposes of time, in this paper would like to focus my discussion around the three articles that I found most informative, due to the fact that they resented their arguments very thoroughly and effectively summed up the most important aspects from their position in this debate. In an article written by William G. Spade titled Competency Based Education: A Bandwagon in Search of a Definition, he begins by laying out what in theory seem to be the advantages of implementing a competency-based education system, the first of these being clear outcomes.
In a normative system, the decision as to whether or not you have met a course’s instructional goals and should therefore pass the course is left to the discretion of the teacher or instructor. For example, in a typical high school, freshman students are required to take English 9 or a class equivalent to it. One of the standards for that class states that, “students will be able to identify parts of speech”. The problem with this is that it is not specific enough.
It doesn’t tell you things like what parts of speech or how many parts of speech one should know before passing the class. These decisions are left up to the teacher and for that reason students who all took the same class will come out with varying degrees of ability. Spade writes, “CUBE takes the surprises out of the instructional-certification process by encouraging collaborative decision making regarding goals, by placing these goals “up front’ as guides for both teachers and learners, and by attaching those goals to explicit and reasonably concrete behavioral referents. (Spade ID) Ideally, students would have multiple opportunities for assessment to determine whether or not they are meeting their goals and remediation classes if necessary. This calls into play the issue of time also presented in this article. Traditional systems of education are organized around specific periods of time such as quarters or masters, giving students limited opportunities to meet their goals. Since all students learn at different rates, this time frame is not always conducive to their mastery of specific standards.
Competency-based education on the other hand advocates an outcome-based system as opposed to a time-based one. In an outcome-based system students would have multiple exposures to both instruction and assessment in order to help them achieve the desired outcome, even if this time frame didn’t fit the traditional system. This would call for a change in the instructional system as well to one that focuses on calculating multiple opportunities for all students to meet the certification standards.
The curriculum would therefore be written around achieving specific goals and “schools can provide a variety of instructional activities from which, students can choose in pursuing a given outcome goal. ” (Spade 1 1) Spade points out that the difficulty in this lies in being able to create programs for students based upon the results of these multiple assessments. Not only will teachers have to evaluate students more often, but they will also have to come up with the next steps based on their current progress.
Also, in most school districts across the country, teachers are also lacking resources to design these new kinds of programs and methods of instruction. Spade is adamant on the fact that if a competency-based system is to function properly, a lot of funding would have to be provided to create a whole new program for students that not only provided them with a variety of activities to help them achieve their goals, but also remediation to help those who are not.
Spade ends the article by concluding that although there are some attractive and seemingly promising aspects to competency-based education, he rush of schools to jump on the “bandwagon” has caused them to not fully think through the needs of the implementation process and the considerable restructuring of the current system that it will take. For these reasons, competency-based education, which he feels could ideally be very beneficial for students, cannot be successful.
In his article Examining the Basis for Competency-Based Education, David Insinuators, like William G. Spade, starts with a brief description of some of the perceived benefits of a competency-based system before going on to point out its significant flaws. The big difference between the two authors is where Spade was focused more on competency-based instruction at the high school level, Insinuators is looking at it from a college level standpoint and cites a specific university from which his observations were made.
One of the initial statements Insinuators makes is that “competency-based education rests on the premise that if one can define expertise in terms of the behaviors an expert in a particular skill or discipline exhibits, and if one can make these behaviors the target of one’s instruction, then many former evils of education will be removed. (Insinuators 323) He then goes on to briefly State some Of the infinite of a competency-based system, such as curricular content finally being able to be viewed in a scientific systematic fashion as well as some of the same benefits discussed by Spade, before getting to the meat of the article where he proves why his previously stated premise is incorrect. One of the first things that Insinuators points to is the fact that a competency-based system requires a student to perform specific behavioral objectives in order to demonstrate competency.
The problem he cites with this is that “many subject areas cannot be adequately expressed in performance terms. ” Insinuators 324) For subject matter that can be expressed in performance, terms such as the example he cites of the runner, there is still the problem of competency-based evaluation systems being vague. In a norm based system you might say something like the runner ran the mile in 10 minutes and placed 4th, which would give you a good idea of his performance in reference to the other runners.
In a competency-based stem the result might something like the runner made competency by running the mile in under 45 minutes. This tells you very little about the runner’s actual ability as you have nothing to reference it against. Insinuators concludes that competency-based systems can only be seen as a more accurate record of student performance “if and only if all the conditions and criteria associated with the performance are expressed in standard units,” (Insinuators 326) which is not always going to be the case. Another issue that Insinuators cites is the problem of maintaining standards in a competency-based system.
In a norm-based system students are given a letter grade and the teacher references the students work to determine what performance at a certain level should look like. Without that reference, teachers are blindly determining what should be the standard for he demonstration of competency and this may cause them to set that standard at the minimum. This can lead to very smart but lazy students to not challenge themselves because they can do the bare minimum and get by and there is no recognition for outstanding achievement. This can lead to frustration for both teachers and students.
Insinuators solution is to create a standards-based system ‘Which would foster individuality, whereby students can opt for instruction rather than be forced into it, the more capable students can graduate earlier than the less capable, and the evaluation recess would become open, rather than what tends to be a recall test of idiosyncrasies unveiled in the privacy of the classroom. ” (Insinuators 331) In my own experience as a teacher I have used standards-based systems and have come to find that they too have many flaws, which I will be briefly discussing later in my paper.
The last article that I would like to discuss is of particular interest to me as it deals with competency-based education as it pertains to the EL classroom and the majority of my students are in fact SEC’s. In her article What’s Wrong with CUBE? Lynn Savage discusses misconceptions regarding competency- eased education and how that has led to errors in implementation, causing the programs to fail. The first error that she cites is that many competency- based programs limit the range of competencies.
Savage points to the fact that competency-based education first caught the attention of SSL instructors in the early sass’s where it was encouraged to be used as a program for refugees. Fosse programs were frequently required to focus on basic survival or entry-level employment skills and targeted to students with very limited proficiency in English. ” (Savage 556) the result of this, according to Savage, is that now critics of competency-based education are only looking at it as a program to serve these types of students with a limited curriculum to support these particular needs.
Savage describes competency-based education as a “process” that can be utilized to design and deliver curriculum to serve students at any level of language proficiency with any type of curriculum. She describes the “process” of competency-based education as having four steps: assessment of student needs, the selection of competencies based on their individual needs, instruction designed to specifically target those competencies, and the evaluation of student reference in those particular competencies. Competencies can vary based upon the student’s particular goals.
A student whose vocational goal might be to become a mechanic, might demonstrate competency by correctly performing an oil change while a person whose goal is mastery of a particular science standard might correctly perform an experiment. According to savage there doesn’t not have to be a limit placed upon the number of available competencies a student can work towards. However, where I feel her argument falls short is in her failure to address the fact that schools have emitted resources available to provide opportunities for such a large range of competencies to fit the needs of all individual students.
The second misconception regarding competency-based education that Savage address is the belief that competency-based education emphasizes knowledge rather than use. She points to the fact that some programs that are presenting themselves as competency-based emphasize the presentation of information rather than the student developing the necessary skills to actually complete a task in English. Savage describes competency as “an instructional objective described in task-based terms. Savage 556) These objectives should begin with things like “students will demonstrate” or “students will write” instead of “students will know” or “students will understand”. One of the problems here that she fails to address is the teacher’s ability to create these types of assessments for their students and what would be the standard for the demonstration of competency. The last misconception addressed in the article is that when using competency-based education in the SSL classroom you need to use a phrasebook approach such as teaching students to always say something like “can you please clarify for me? Savage points to the fact hat this kind of ‘formulaic” approach is not advocated by a competency- based approach, which encourages students to develop their own abilities in English. If students are taught in this way these kinds of sentence frames might limit their ability to develop their own voice in English and effectively express their own thoughts and ideas. Having been an educator for six years now at several different schools, I have been exposed to a number of different systems designed to maximize student achievement.
Currently, am using a standards-based grading system with my students, which in my opinion is very similar to a competency-based yester. In a standards-based system students are graded solely on how well they are mastering a particular standard. Daily, we are asked to write a standard on the board and a daily objective such as “students will demonstrate their knowledge of figurative language by scoring a 3 or a 4 on a multiple choice quiz”.
During the lesson we are asked to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate how well they are progressing towards the mastery of the daily objective and provide opportunities for remedial instruction if necessary. Throughout the semester students will be revived with multiple opportunities, through both formative and summarize assessments, to demonstrate their mastery of a particular standard. The student’s grade is based solely on their scores on these assessments.
Having worked with this kind of system for a year now, there are several issues that I have personally observed that I would like to discuss. The first issue that I have had with this kind of system is the fact that unless a homework assignment or class activity is some form of a formal assessment, it doesn’t count. The problem here lies in the fact that it makes it difficult for teachers to old students accountable for homework and glasswork assigned to them primarily to have them practice a particular skill.
If a student fails to do their homework, it doesn’t count against them because it doesn’t say anything about whether or not they are actually meeting a particular standard. If a student never does any glasswork or homework, but takes the assessments and passes, then he/she can pass the class with a good grade. In my opinion this encourages poor work ethic in students and fails to prepare them for the real world.
If you failed to come to your job for a few days and then showed p with a finished and brilliantly written report, you would most likely be fired. As teachers we need to advocate for good work ethic and hold students accountable when they fail to meet obligations. This has been extremely difficult for me working in the parameters of a standard-based grading system. Another issue that have found with a standards-based system is that it fails to account for the students who are starting out significantly below grade level. M required to assess and grade students based solely on 6th grade standards and so if have a student starting out at a 4th grade level, hey are at a severe disadvantage for passing the class. This kind of system does not allow me to focus on student’s improvements, but emphasizes the fact that they are unable to meet sixth 6th grade standards, which can be very discouraging for the students. The last issue that I would like to discuss is the fact that working with a standards-based system has limited my creativity and taken away from the classroom experience.
There is so much pressure for students to demonstrate mastery of the standards and for teachers to provide them with constant assessments throughout the lesson cycle to see if he daily objective is being met, that there doesn’t seem to be time for things like simply reading for pleasure. For my EL students, just being exposed to the English language, as it is meant to be spoken, can be so beneficial but if cannot link this experience to a particular standard with a particular objective and means to assess it, I shouldn’t be doing it.
Throughout my research of competency-based education systems found many similarities to the standards-based system, which am currently working in and for this reason I felt that the previous discussion was relevant to the issue. Although, I myself eave not experienced a system deemed “competency-based” feel that my experience in a standards-based system has given me an insight into some of the issues I would face in dealing with this type of system.