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Peter Goodman: The Next Battleground: Competency-Based Education

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Peter Goodman blogs frequently about education in New York. In this post, he explains what “competency-based education” is and why it is a problem.


He writes:


“A decades-long cyber revolution has been changing the face of education – sort of. Assignments are online, papers and homework submitted online, distance learning allows class participation from anywhere, Skype, Dropbox, cyber tools abound; however, every new cyber tool, hardware and software, has to be monetized, turned into dollars. Will the cyber tools ultimately substitute for the instructor? Enhance the effectiveness of the instructor? Increase student learning (defined as scores on tests aka assessments of learning)?


“Is the future of education a tablet with a student tapping away and the teacher, as an adjunct assisting the student in using the cyber tools?


“A description of Computer Adaptive Testing provided by I-Learn, a vendor,


‘There is growing interest in computer adaptive testing (CAT), where students answer questions online and a computerized algorithm tailors future questions based on correct or incorrect answers. The key difference between an adaptive assessment and a fixed-form one—which is often taken with paper and pencil— teachers can better understand the root causes of skill gaps spanning back multiple years as well as identify where to focus instruction next. This helps them differentiate instruction and meet the needs of all learners, including those who are below, on and above grade level.’


“Questar, the newly hired creator of the next generation of New York State grades 3-8 tests also is a proponent of competency-based education (CBE). Content can be divided into discrete packages; a Questar blog describes the process,


“… eliminate the one-to-many teaching approach. Students can’t receive personalized instruction and personalized learning when a teacher has to teach to the most common denominator. We can solve this problem with technology by giving every student a tablet device that wirelessly connects to adaptive software in the cloud.


… seamlessly integrate assessment with the instruction presented to each student on his or her tablet. Educators know that best-practice teaching involves instructing for five minutes, asking students a few questions to determine if they’ve understood the material, backtracking if necessary, and then moving on to the next topic … With tablets and the right software, this approach is possible on an individualized basis: after every five minutes of individualized tablet-based instruction, students would be presented with a brief series of questions that adapt to their skill level, much as computer-adaptive tests operate today. After that assessment, the next set of instructional material would be customized according to these results. If a student needs to relearn some material, the software automatically adjusts and creates a custom learning plan on the fly.’


“Does this competency or adaptive learning approach agree with what we know about how children learn?


“The last decade has seen an explosion in brain research, and we know that children learn through interactions with adults and other students in challenging environments, these interactions lead to increased learning….


“We are not Luddites, the world will continue to change, we just have to make sure the changes benefit the needs of children not line the pockets of entrepreneurs at the expense of our children.”



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