Competency based assessment

10 Step Primer for Competency-based Learning Design by Josie Jordan

10 Step Primer for Competency-based Learning Design by Josie Jordan

When planning curriculum, many of us were trained to rely on content resources to lead the way: What books will I cover? What textbook will I use? What concepts do I need to address? However, to be competency-based and make more room for personalization, shifting your focus to the skills learners need to build is essential. 

Use this “paint-by-numbers” guide to confidently sketch out your competency-based curriculum with bold and broad brushstrokes. It’s a simple, powerful process by which you’ll be well on your way to designing competency-based, learner-centered curriculum.  

Students Share Thoughts on Personalized Learning: Part Four

In the final episode of our interviews with college students, we asked them what they might say to schools, educators, parents or students considering personalized learning.

It's "Our Time"- Notes from the Statehouse


UP for Learning is an organization that helps educational institutions across the country fully engage students in their own learning through a research-based model that focuses on deepening youth-adult partnerships in schools. I had an amazing opportunity today at the Vermont Statehouse to witness how Up For Learning engaged with students to create a song about Act 77 which mandated personalized learning in Vermont schools.

Their work extended beyond the song writing collaboration and involved the creation of a music video called "Our Time". This morning, they presented their work to the House Education Committee. As part of her testimony, high school junior Dorothy said "I was looking for meaning in my education, and I wanted to show what my education meant to me." The creation of this song was a perfect example of students finding meaning in their education and Dorothy and the others were able to convey through song what education meant to them. Hearing them speak about the importance of having agency at their schools was a special kind of inspiration. 

In general, seeing youth in the Statehouse testifying (and not just touring the building) to a legislative committee, is a heartening experience. It makes sense that students would be testifying in front of the education committee. It strikes me now that all committees should hear from youth on every issue. 

After all, what’s the point of creating laws and regulations if they aren't in service of the next generation and those to come? 

Today was beautiful because a state embraced a group of students who collaboratively created a piece of art declaring their need to be coauthors of their education. This may sound like a no brainer or like its not a big deal but when you think about the old paradigm - that is still present across most of the country - where students are passive participants in a prescribed plan designed to mold them to a set of societal expectations that don't honor their individuality or create a supportive community in which they can grow. is a big deal.  

This is an absolutely critical moment. We can't afford to continue to have stagnated systems in a hyper connected, rapidly changing world. Today, I witnessed a brilliant example of what learner centered, open-walled and socially embedded education looks like. It is possible. This is not just an isolated incident in a small progressive state. 

This was a glimpse at a larger paradigm shift that is taking place across the country that has the potential to radically improve the engagement of our citizens and our ability to tackle global, complex problems because graduates of our schools will have had the experience of practicing locally through personally relevant projects. 


Liam entered a personalized learning program his senior year of high school and as a student of SchoolHack co-founder Josie Jordan, found a passion for learning and a desire to teach.  Liam studied social entrepreneurship at Champlain College and developed a platform for personal and communal empowerment.  A volunteer and member of the Community Advisory Committee at the Community Justice Center in Burlington, Liam brings his social and personal work to SchoolHack helping the student voice be heard and connecting schools, learners and the outside community with one another.  Liam is a lifelong Vermonter committed to empowering the local economy and environment, and a passionate explorer of the outdoors and an artist.

Three Starting Points For Adopting Systemic Personalized Learning

As educators, we know that making the shift to personalized learning requires more than just a technology solution. It requires us to fundamentally rethink ‘business as usual,’ dream big, take risks, encounter resistance, shift the culture, and develop many new skills. School transformation takes vision, hard work, patience, teamwork, and plenty of support.

The work the SchoolHack team has done over the years implementing personalized learning in Vermont, and the life-changing outcomes our students have experienced as a result, convinced us that students everywhere should have the same opportunities. We created the LiFT™ platform to help districts move systemically toward personalized, competency-based learning.

Choosing a Starting Point

Each school and district we’ve worked with has approached the change process differently, emphasizing a particular aspect of the LiFT platform depending on the prevailing culture, readiness, and need. Although their intention is to integrate personalized learning across the whole ecosystem, leaders typically identify one of three starting points:

  • Personalized learning plans
  • Competency-based assessment
  • Professional learning

Personalized Learning Plans

Schools that begin with Personalized Learning Plans, or PLPs, are often concerned about student engagement. They’re looking for ways to create unique, flexible pathways to graduation, to give their students voice and choice, and to respond to the ever-changing needs of students.

One way to know you’re on your way to building a truly student-centered culture: when PLPs drive the daily experience of students and teachers. This is easier said than done, and teachers need a way to efficiently integrate PLPs into instruction, which is why we created LiFT.

At the Danville School, for instance, students began by using LiFT to create PLPs during advisory.  They regularly visit their LiFT pages to identify new strengths and interests; set personal, academic, and career goals for themselves; and track their progress. As familiarity with personalized learning has grown within the school, some Danville teachers are using PLP data to personalize instruction by connecting it to student goals and interests. Yes, it does take a little effort, but when students are truly motivated, things are easier for teachers, too.

Competency-Based Assessment: All Learning Counts

Because competency-based assessment supports greater flexibility, it can be a powerful complement to your personalized learning initiative. In a competency framework, students can demonstrate skills in multiple ways, and can therefore progress at their own pace according to their unique dispositions.

Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union is an inspiring example of a leadership team approaching the change process through competencies. The district had just developed a new set of competencies and verification guides to evaluate student work when they adopted LiFT. Teachers are now using LiFT to create interactive rubrics and calibrate their assessment practices. (By the way, the leadership team asked students to evaluate LiFT and provide input before a final decision was made about which platform to adopt. Bringing student voice in early increases buy-in and can make your roll-out much easier.)

To demonstrate competency, students should be able to submit evidence from activities both inside and outside of school. By allowing many kinds of evidence to be measured, all learning counts and students are validated for who they are and what they do beyond school walls.

Personalized Professional Learning: Why Let Students Have All the Fun?

A common thread among educators committed to personalized learning is the desire for effective, ongoing professional learning. Systemic change requires everyone to take on new roles, learn new technologies, and measure efficacy along the way.

Administrators are understandably cautious about putting new demands on teachers. But sustained professional learning actually energizes teachers and guards against initiative fatigue. Districts are seeking a flexible, intuitive system to manage and personalize professional development.

Just as your students can use PLPs to sustain engagement, set goals, and collect evidence, so can your teachers. Why let students have all the fun? Many leaders we work with are excited that teachers and students can use the same tool. Erik Remmers, principal of Enosburg Falls High School, appreciates the built-in efficiency of LiFT as a “solution that supports and delivers our professional learning around personalized and competency-based curriculum design.”

Worth the Effort

By definition, there is no one right answer to personalized learning. There are certainly no magic bullets or quick fixes. Despite the challenges, I meet countless educators forging ahead for the sake of students. Though the methods may be different, they all have something in common: they don’t settle for a narrow definition of student success.  Each student is seen as a whole person with something quite unique and important to offer the world. So by all means, carry on! It’s worth the effort.


David Lipkin | Chief Executive Officer

David Lipkin, SchoolHack’s co-founder and CEO, is an effective facilitator with experience coordinating diverse treatment teams to deliver highly personalized mental health services. As a clinician and educator with over 15 years serving youth and families in many settings, David specializes in engaging with and treating populations traditionally considered difficult to reach. At SchoolHack, David enjoys envisioning a healthy educational future, and doing what it takes to make it happen. He is the proud father of three wonderful children.

This post originally appeared on the Next Gen Learning Blog

© 2016 SchoolHack Solutions