How To Introduce Competency-Based Learning To K-12 Learners

How Does Competency-Based Learning For K-12 Learners Work?

Contrary to traditional learning models, competency-based learning for K-12 learners emphasizes individual needs, experiences, strengths, and gaps. Instead of punishing a student for lacking knowledge and performing poorly, teachers offer them extra support tools to further develop their skills and improve their performance. Therefore, students are encouraged to make their own decisions regarding their learning pace and experiences, while educators offer well-timed feedback to help them set and achieve their learning objectives. This way, pupils feel comfortable taking as much time as necessary to learn and choosing one of many learning pathways to effectively acquire and retain knowledge. This article explores the benefits of competency-based learning for K-12 students, the level of influence students have on the learning process, as well as grading techniques instructors and educators use.

Benefits Of Competency-Based Learning


Competency-based learning teaches K-12 students to not only receive feedback but also apply it utilizing critical thinking. Students also learn how to regulate their emotions and improve their performance through problem solving. This is achieved when teachers show them that they trust them to apply feedback constructively, not to please them but to achieve their own learning goals. So, when it’s time to grade them, educators exhibit their appreciation for the outcome as well as for their resilience throughout the process. As a result, learners understand that their efforts matter and lead to satisfactory scores.


Many students aren’t motivated by good grades and being at the top of their class. Instead, they need extra motivation to excel. Their perspective must be shifted, and they need to understand how their development and knowledge can help them in real life. Being in charge of their education increases their self-esteem and inspiration. They know that learning isn’t only about grades and teachers’ satisfaction but, most importantly, about their own progression and creativity. Consequently, they work harder and are determined to achieve new accomplishments.


The main thing competency-based learning for K-12 students wishes to increase is engagement. To achieve that, teachers must involve all learners in crafting their learning environment so everyone can add their touch. Collaboratively designing their learning space helps students get a sense of belonging and understand that they have some control over their learning journey. Learners feel empowered knowing that their voices matter and are more involved in assignments and teachings.

The Levels Of Influence Students Can Have

The Choice Level

If teachers want to make students feel comfortable being in class and engaging during lessons, they must offer them the possibility to make their own choices. Based on pre-existing options, learners choose the one that suits them the most. For example, in traditional classrooms, teachers would assign students a specific seat they would have to maintain during the entire year. However, in this model, pupils can choose their own seat and change it as often as they wish.

The Contribution Level

At this level, teachers take the lead and make their proposals to students. The latter can vote on the suggestions and implement the most popular ones. For instance, an educator may want to create various boards in their classroom. They can suggest a few themes and let learners choose their favorite ideas. They might even let pupils make their own suggestions and, ultimately, implement the one that receives the most votes.

The Co-Design Level

This is also a collaborative level, but pupils have even more freedom to create their own learning spaces. Instead of choosing from their teachers’ suggestions, they are allowed to make their own. For example, if a tutor wants to create a play area, they can ask each learner to bring an item from home they feel connected to. Therefore, everyone can add a piece of themselves to this area and feel comfortable and confident going to school every day. This approach shows respect for everyone’s individuality and validates the importance of authenticity.

How Does Competency-Based Learning Grade K-12 Students?

Formative Assessments

During competency-based learning for K-12 students, formative assessments are introduced to monitor performance during the learning process. Educators don’t grade anyone’s progress but instead identify struggles, misconceptions, and gaps that may obstruct learning. They offer direction and feedback to help pupils understand their objectives clearly and work further to achieve them. It’s an effort to minimize learning gaps and empower learners to assess themselves or ask for help from their peers. This process can be initiated through extensive conversations, written tips, and quizzes.

Summative Assessments

These assessments aim to measure knowledge comprehension after a class, course, or program. Educators can use exams, tests, essays, presentations, and reports to assess students and their knowledge of a subject. Unlike the formative model, these assessments are graded due to their high importance. For this reason, instructors must formulate questions and define parameters clearly. If educators wish to provide unbiased feedback and corrections, they can grade assessments anonymously. Afterward, they can reveal the name of each student and discuss long-term goals with them.

Competency Rubrics

Often, educators who introduce a competency-based learning style in K-12 education recruit the help of rubrics. Each rubric represents a different competency and aims to highlight the progress students have made in mastering knowledge on various subjects. The main focus is on advancement, not mistakes. Learners must view each rubric as a ladder they need to climb to move on to the next goal. All criteria must be met for them to move on to the next level. If not, they should review their steps and carve out a new pathway to succeed and overcome hurdles.

Tips To Successfully Introduce Competency-Based Learning In K-12 Classrooms

The majority of schools judge a student’s performance and progress based on seat time and consider them a failure if they miss a considerable amount of time. This policy must change and place goal completion at the forefront. Pupils should be encouraged to reach their goals in a specific amount of time and not be judged based on how many days they didn’t attend school. Teachers know best how to implement competency-based learning for K-12 learners, but they need a lot of support. Therefore, districts, parents, and communities should be properly informed about the way this system works. If not, board members will likely vote against enforcing such a learning initiative. Schools should try this approach as an experiment and see whether the benefits tip the scale.


Education that focuses on competency teaches individuals to delve deeper into troubling areas and explore ways to overcome them. Learners learn to appreciate hard work for the sake of progress and are eager to exceed expectations and even advance beyond grade level in certain areas. Assessments don’t feel like a punishment they should hide from their parents but rather constructive feedback they can utilize to further improve. They also learn not to compare themselves with their peers and to focus solely on their work and how they can use their strengths to their advantage. Through mastery, pacing, and instruction, educators empower students to achieve their goals.

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