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Competency-Based Learning

Individualizing instruction has long been the Holy Grail for schools.  Over the years there have been many innovations introduced to achieve that objective.  But I think the one that offers the most promise is competency-based learning. It recognizes that students learn at their own pace. Accordingly, it allows them to earn credits after they demonstrate mastery of the material, rather than after spending a year in a particular class ("Shaking Up the Classroom," The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 11).

Seat time is arguably the least defensible policy because it is based on the assumption that all students need a stipulated number of hours of instruction to learn subject matter.  As public schools become increasingly diverse, that premise is called into question.  Some students are bored; others are lost.  Competency-based learning eliminates those possibilities by tailoring instruction to the individual needs of students.

Every course has objectives.  By pre-testing students, teachers can determine their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Instruction then allows them to move as quickly or as slowly as needed. Seat time becomes irrelevant.  Why force students to remain in a grade for a year if they can show that they have learned the material in less time?

When I was in elementary school, students were allowed to "skip" a year if they passed a test and if their parents gave their consent.  Looking back, I assume the instrument used was an off-the-shelf standardized IQ test.  Some parents prefer that their children remain with their classmates for social reasons.  That's their right, of course.  But I think most parents would like to see their children challenged.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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