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Competency-based education in three pilot programs: Examining implementation and outcomes

Author(s): Steele, J. L., Lewis, M. W., Santibanez, L., Faxon-Mills, S., Rudnick, M., Stecher, B. M., & Hamilton, L. S.
Organization(s): RAND Corporation
Description:The Project Mastery grant program was created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2011 to support competency-based approaches in large school systems with a significant population of low-income and minority students. Competency-based education allows students to earn credit based on proving proficiency rather than spending time studying a subject. This 2014 report studied three organizations with Project Mastery grants, covering eleven schools in five districts and four states, to develop technology-enhanced tools to implement competency-based education in secondary schools. Researchers defined three features of the competency-based education model: instruction meets students where they are, students have choices about their learning, and students are evaluated based on their demonstrations of proficiency in the academic standards for their education level and subject area. Findings regarding student performance under this model varied across the pilot sites, but the effects were generally better for schools that utilized student choice and project-based learning, rather than flexible pacing and mastery grading. Challenges during implementation highlighted in teacher interviews are discussed, and six lessons for policy, partnerships, and practices are outlined.
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