Competency-based education: Creative testing methods for K-12 students

Competency Based Education and creative testing methods for k-12 studemys

Published: October 30th, 2023

In today’s modern educational landscape, teachers are expected to deliver increasingly comprehensive instruction. Students are expected to acquire a deeper understanding of the subject matter despite their limited prior knowledge. 

As educators, our unwavering commitment to ensuring every student receives the highest-quality education possible remains. As we set out to achieve this mission, we come across a difficult inquiry:  how can we bridge the disparities that exist among our students while maintaining a positive and inclusive classroom culture? 

Perhaps the answer lies in the realm of competency-based education.

What is competency-based education?

For years, researchers have devoted themselves to identifying the secret formula that ensures every child reaches their fullest potential. Despite tireless efforts, it’s widely recognized that no magic potion exists. 

However, researchers can agree that empowering students to take charge of their learning is crucial. By letting them learn at their own pace and demonstrating mastery in authentic, individualized ways, we can personalize education.

One compelling avenue for achieving this is through competency-based education CBE). According to Levine & Patrick (2019), there are seven key elements to CBE:

  1. Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences.
  2. Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students.
  3. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  4. Student progress is based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  5. Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
  6. Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the education systems.
  7. Rigorous, common expectations for learning are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.

In other words, competency-based education places a higher degree of responsibility on students. It revolves around students demonstrating their mastery of content at a pace that suits their needs and capabilities. 

It’s vital to understand that CBE doesn’t support a random approach to learning. Instead, it centers on demonstrating one’s knowledge in a way that allows a full display of their comprehension of the subject matter. 

To make this approach effective, students are given clearly defined, explicit criteria to reference when demonstrating their knowledge. Students must be aware of these expectations before the start of their learning journey. By encouraging students to dive deeper into topics in ways that they may not have experienced before, we open the door to a wealth of new opportunities for the next generation of learners.

What role do competency-based assessments play in creating CBE programs?

Traditional assessments typically test a student’s immediate understanding of a concept without considering the fact that not all students learn at the same pace. These assessments often fall short of letting students demonstrate their knowledge in a manner that is relevant and meaningful to them. 

Competency-based assessments cater to individualized learning experiences. Every student can showcase their comprehension in ways that truly resonate with them. 

The foundation of a successful CBE program relies on the thoughtful development of these competency-based assessments, even before actual instruction takes place. These assessments serve as guides for students, offering them clear and concise expectations. 

No end-all, be all

It’s imperative that students understand that an assessment is not the final verdict. Rather, it’s another form of feedback to help them adapt their learning journey and gain a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. 

Competency-based assessments should be both well-defined and rigorous, ensuring all students, regardless of their chosen mode of demonstrating mastery, are held to high standards. These assessments serve as valuable sources of data for teachers, equipping them with the evidence required to better support their students. 

Mastering topics

Central to the concept of competency-based education is the notion of mastery. Students need to demonstrate readiness to progress to the next skill or topic. Mastery within learning progressions should be explicit and transparent, letting students make necessary adjustments to continue their educational journey. 

Competency-based education programs commonly incorporate both summative and formative assessments. The formative assessments are fundamental in providing students with the feedback essential for their ongoing growth and progression toward learning objectives. 

To maintain a high level of rigor, scoring should be subjective, and school districts may need to invest in teacher professional development. 

A common practice with competency-based education programs is the development of rubrics for projects and written work. These rubrics serve dual purposes: they provide teachers with benchmarks for mastery work and offer students clearly defined learning outcomes.

Implementing competency-based education requires schools to allow students to demonstrate mastery at their own pace, going beyond traditional grading scales. While adaptive learning technologies play a vital role in providing support, teachers should not solely rely on these tools. 

They must still provide rich learning experiences and nurture a positive classroom culture. Strong student-teacher relationships can truly empower students on a competency-based education journey. 

What are the benefits of competency-based assessments?

The mere mention of the word “assessments” often brings about apprehension and disdain. Why? 

Assessments, in their true nature, serve as powerful tools for providing students with valuable, timely feedback that can pinpoint areas for growth and improvement. It’s crucial to recognize assessments as a constructive means of gauging our understanding and mastery, isn’t it? 

Regrettably, the term “assessment” has recently received a somewhat negative connotation. It’s frequently tied to other concepts like funding, growth, proficiency, or the lack thereof. In this context, it’s important to reframe our perspective on assessments.

The underlying principle of assessment is not merely to evaluate students’ knowledge but to enable them to make necessary modifications and improve their performance. It’s through this process that students truly grow and achieve mastery. 

Competency-based assessments offer several advantages for educators and students alike. They are intentionally designed to provide the following benefits.

Personalized learning

Identifying a student’s strengths and weaknesses enables educators to customize instruction to meet individual needs. This personalized approach to education promotes active learning and empowers students to take control of their learning.

Accurate and reliable measurement

Competency-based assessments yield more precise data on a student’s proficiency in a specific skill, enabling students to monitor their progress over time with greater accuracy.

Goal alignment

Competency-based assessments are aligned to specific, measurable standards, ensuring that learners acquire the essential skills required to thrive as responsible adults.

Improved performance

Students are more motivated to demonstrate their knowledge in ways that resonate with them, leading to increased performance and competence.


Allowing students to showcase their competencies in various ways proves more advantageous than traditional assessments. This approach equips students to exhibit their talents across diverse fields as they pursue a career after traditional schooling.


By focusing on measurable skills and competencies, competency-based assessments foster a greater sense of fairness within the educational environment.

Moreover, the implementation of competency-based assessments within the educational landscape empowers students to develop critical thinking skills, shaping them into well-rounded individuals and preparing them for their roles as global citizens.

How can teachers incorporate competency-based assessments into the classroom?

Allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge through nontraditional means is a pivotal step toward fostering a sense of ownership over their learning journey. It’s a substantial change that lets students tap into their full potential. 

To achieve this, teachers can collaborate and create assessments that address groups of standards or skills. The result is an educational environment where students have the freedom to progress at their own pace, uninhibited by a rigid calendar. 

By giving students the opportunity to test their knowledge over time, their competencies can exponentially increase. A strategic approach involves spiraling assessments to include both past and current content. This not only reinforces prior knowledge but also provides students with invaluable lessons from their past mistakes, thus contributing to their overall growth. 

Here are a few examples of how teachers can incorporate competency-based assessments into their curricula.

Performance tasks

Students can demonstrate their proficiency by completing authentic, real-world tasks. For instance, they may choose to design a website, create a budget for a family vacation, or even conduct their own science experiment to test a hypothesis. 


Students curate a collection of artifacts that showcase their understanding of a given topic or skill over time. These artifacts may include essays, artwork, or even videos that showcase their knowledge and skills.


Demonstrating competency can occur through simulated settings, either virtually or in a physical environment. This approach allows students to apply their knowledge and skills in lifelike contexts.


For younger students or those who face challenges with reading or writing tasks, competency can be assessed by allowing students to demonstrate their abilities in a natural, unstructured setting.

Oral presentations

Allowing students to articulate their knowledge verbally through presentations, round-table discussions, or debates promotes the development of public speaking skills and is a robust way to assess their understanding of complex topics or skills. 

How can Promethean support teachers in using competency-based assessments?

Promethean’s interactive displays give teachers the flexibility they need to incorporate competency-based assessments, changing the way student comprehension is assessed. 

Using ActivInspire’s flipcharts, students can interact with content in new and exciting ways! Teachers can search through the Promethean Resource Library for hundreds of free flipcharts that they can then tailor to fit their students’ individual needs. 

Activities such as creating diagrams for students to label, sequencing activities, or drag-and-drop elements allow students to demonstrate their understanding of a topic or skill beyond a traditional test. The ability to let students fix their mistakes over time is a benefit when assessing students’ competencies.

Promethean’s ActivPanel allows teachers to display images, allowing students to demonstrate their competencies through annotations using a writing tool or even their own hand. 

Teachers can also use the screen capture tool on their ActivPanel to curate a collection of artifacts, uploading them to a digital portfolio for students to revisit throughout their learning journey. For classrooms with 1:1 devices, students have the ability to share their own screens using the Promethean Screen Share App for immediate feedback and corrections.

Competency-based education and assessments can truly bridge the gaps in student learning and significantly increase student achievement. The right edtech software can assist teachers in this transformation.