How is Competency Based Education taught in Westminster Public Schools?
In our Competency Based System (CBS), traditional grade levels are out and learning is in. Students are placed in performance levels based not on their age, but on what they know. There are 12 levels in the core content areas of math, literacy, social studies and science, and students move to the next level only when they can demonstrate proficiency. Students must move through designated levels to graduate. Students are often at different levels for different content areas. For example, a student could be in math level 6 and literacy level 8.
How is proficiency demonstrated?
Students have clearly defined learning targets in each level that can be accessed by students and parents via the Wiki. Students track their own progress and must demonstrate comprehension and understanding to the instructor. Students then take a computerized test with Scantron software to confirm proficiency. Performance levels and learning targets are in alignment with Colorado Academic Standards.
How are students graded?
Students earn a score of 1, 2, 3 or 4 reflecting their knowledge of each learning target. Score 3 is proficient and score 4 indicates advanced skill or knowledge. Remember, students only move to a new level when they show proficiency or better on all learning targets in the level.
How do students transition from year to year?
The beauty of CBS is that all information is stored in an electronic grade book (E-ducate) that follows the student’s academic career over time. It can be accessed at any time by a student, parent or teacher. At the start of the school year, students pick up where they left off at the end of the prior year. Teachers have a complete record of the student’s academic history and valuable time is not wasted in trying to discover what a student does or doesn’t know or re-teaching skills the student already knows.
What if my student is new to the district?
Newly arriving students take a placement test that determines which math and literacy level they belong in. They are initially placed in all other content areas based on age. During an initial two week period, students are also evaluated by teachers to ensure they are in the correct level. Parents are encouraged to visit with principals and staff so they have complete understanding of CBS, and E-ducate. This allows parents to take a more active role in the child’s learning.
How often will students move levels?
Some students move several levels a year because they are able to go back and fill in missing gaps in their learning and quickly get up to speed. CBS acknowledges that not all students learn at the same pace and a “one size fits all” strategy does not produce a quality education for many students.
What happens to students who are advanced learners?
High achieving students do not have to wait for their entire class to master what they already know to move forward. High school students can take college level classes and often receive college credits while still in high school.
How do you teach the unmotivated student?
This is an age-old problem. The key to success is connecting with a student’s interests and strengths and creating a meaningful teacher/student relationship. In an CBS environment students are more engaged in the learning process and understand that they have a much greater say in their education. In addition, fellow students are encouraged to demonstrate proficiency by teaching others what they have mastered. They are in many ways, classroom tutors.
What happens to a student who is significantly below their age appropriate level?
Under the old system, many students fell victim to what is known as “social promotion.” They were moved along to the next grade level and even if they were able to graduate from high school they were not able to compete in the 21st century economy. In a Competency Based System, students performing below their expected level will receive support from instructional interventionists who provide small-group targeted or intensive instruction for struggling learners. CBS ensures that all students graduate prepared for the next phase of their life whether it is college, the military or if they move directly into the work force.
Since age no longer determines placement in levels, will young children be in the same classroom as teenagers?
No, there is flexibility in the system to ensure that students are grouped in age appropriate combinations. A 10 year old could be working alongside a 12 or 8 year old, but not a 15 year old student. Student placement in an elementary, middle or high school buildings is still determined by age.
How do electives fit into the Competency Based education system?
There are various numbers of performance levels in the areas of Music, PE/Health, Art, Technology and World Languages. Students must meet requirements in each of these areas in order to graduate. Students move through the levels of proficiency similar to the core classes of literacy, math, science and social studies.
How does CBS fit with college applications and the admission process?
There are no conflicts. High school students will still have a traditional transcript, grade point average (GPA) and class rank for college admission offices to consider. Students will continue to take the nationally administered ACT and SAT tests that colleges use to gauge a student’s preparedness. Colleges welcome students who graduate from an authentic Competency Based System because they know those students have demonstrated proficiency at every level of learning. Our graduates will not need to take remediation classes in college.
(Note: current high school juniors and seniors are not using the CBS system. )
Do students still take standardized state tests?
Students continue to take tests administered by the Colorado Department of Education although the CSAP test is being replaced by a new model. There is a strong incentive for students to perform well on tests, because a strong performance can mean a movement in levels for students who show mastery.
What does special education support look like?
As is customary statewide, students with disabilities are still identified using traditional methods and will receive necessary supports and services as outlined in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Specialized instruction for students with disabilities is done collaboratively utilizing various general education teachers and interventionists within a variety of instructional settings. If necessary, students with more significant needs may need modified curriculum and instruction, which may lead toward earning a modified diploma or certificate of completion.
CBS also means changes for teachers. How do I know that teachers are effective in the classroom?
WPS teachers voted overwhelmingly to implement CBS because they knew the old model failed too many students. Our teachers receive more professional development time than any other teachers in the state. Like their students, our teachers have embraced the concept of continuous learning meaning they become better teachers every day. Over and over, teachers have said they prefer the CBS model and would never go back to the traditional model.