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Opinion: Why competency-based education is good for the business world

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Picture this: Elementary students are learning about supply and demand, scarcity, opportunity cost and other business-related concepts to understand how economics works in the world. To bring this learning to life, their teachers partner with local businesses to mentor students on entrepreneurship so they can open a small business within their school and hold a marketplace to apply their understanding of these economic concepts.

In middle school, these students continue learning about a variety of career paths through job shadowing and engage with community members from diverse fields. One unit about body systems, health and diseases allows students to experience the health services field through being part of a mock clinic at their school.

When these students get to high school, they can participate in apprenticeship programs that result in certifications that will allow them to begin a career upon completion of school or enter a college with credits already completed toward a degree.

From elementary to high school, these students are experiencing competency-based learning, and these are real scenarios taken from across the state of Missouri right now.

What is CBL?
The Success Ready Student Network is working with 94 school districts across the state to build capacity and implement CBL to reimagine the assessment systems across the state. This represents 47% of all Missouri public school K-12 students. To define CBL, they have outlined eight contributing elements:

  1. Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge and how they will demonstrate their learning.
  2. Assessment is a meaningful, positive and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant and actionable evidence.
  3. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  4. Students progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  5. Students learn actively using varied pathways and pacing.
  6. Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure and pedagogy of schools.
  7. Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable and transferable.
  8. Students engage in real-world learning experiences that support high school, college, career and workplace readiness.

Positives for education
CBL has been called many things, including standards-based learning, mastery learning and personalized learning. The benefits to the education system of this practice are seemingly endless. CBL aims to replace traditional assessment and accountability measures such as yearly standardized testing and quarterly benchmark assessments with real-world application of learning in meaningful ways.

This real-world application increases students’ ability to retain and transfer their learning to other contexts, expands college and career readiness, increases both student and teacher satisfaction with the learning process and has the potential to transform our education system.

Benefits in business
One of the ultimate goals of CBL is to prepare students for a world that we do not yet know. In the examples shared above, students who engaged in the entrepreneurial cycle as fourth graders developed skills that they will take with them long after fourth grade. The high school students enter the workforce earlier than others with career skills that set them apart from their peers.

One aspect of CBL that has been recently discussed amongst Success Ready Student Network partner districts is the concept of market value assets. Real World Learning uses this definition for MVA: industry valued and recognized skills acquired in high school that create a more seamless transition from school to postsecondary education and/or the workplace.

MVAs can include internships, client-connected projects, entrepreneurial experiences, industry recognized credentials and college credit. Schools working to incorporate CBL hope to ensure every student has access to at least one MVA by the time they graduate. Expanding high school students’ access to MVAs has positive implications for the business world as students are graduating high school prepared to enter business spaces with increased communication, leadership, collaboration and social skills.

While CBL started with the intention to reimagine and redefine the testing and accountability systems within our schools, the benefits to this approach to business and beyond are vast.

Amber Howard is an assistant professor of elementary education and dean’s fellow for competency-based learning at Missouri State University, and Pam Hedgepeth is executive director of the Greater Ozarks Cooperating School Districts and a Success Ready Student Network facilitator. They can be reached at and


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