How Competency-Based Assessment Can Prepare Students for Higher Education


The world around us is evolving rapidly, but educational practices continue to cater to a one-size-fits-all approach better tailored to the 20th-century economy. Competency-based education moves away from the standard ‘A’ through ‘F’ grading scale to provide each learner with specific feedback based on their strengths and areas of challenge. Starting at an early age, this flexible, student-driven education model can better prepare students for the transition to college and the day-to-day challenges of a modern society.

What is Competency-Based Learning?

Competency-based education provides a more personalized approach to learning, with a greater focus on the individual and how they progress through academic content, regardless of time. It allows students to advance based on their demonstrated mastery of a subject, as opposed to the “teach to the middle” method commonly used in the classroom today. Thus, a key aspect of competency-based learning is the greater connection between students and teachers. Through additional resources, such as a robust advisory program, students receive an education that is tailored to their needs and skill level. This ensures that a student who hasn’t mastered a certain competency—or area of study—isn’t simply passed along to the next level of curriculum without adequate preparation.

Bennett Day Upper School uses an online progress tracker to help students, parents, and educators understand where students are in their skill-mastery journeys and create personalized plans for future growth. 

What are the Benefits to Students?

Since every child learns at a different pace, it’s important to provide flexibility throughout the educational process so that students remain engaged. Competency-based learning increases student engagement because the content is relevant to each student and their unique needs. There’s also a greater focus on developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are crucial for success in the 21st-century economy. Frequent feedback from educators helps to improve education outcomes as well. As Martin Moran, Bennett Day’s Lead Designer of Upper School, recently wrote for eSchool News, “When a student feels seen and understood by an adult, their ability to engage in the intricacies of a competency-based program increases exponentially.”

How Does it Prepare Students for Higher Education?

According to a report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, less than 37 percent of high school seniors are ready for college-level math and reading. This is a sobering indication that traditional time-based educational practices are not preparing children for the real world. With competency-based education, students get hands-on experience in core skills, such as logic and reasoning—something that’s far more important to college professors than standardized test scores. Even though the deficiencies in traditional education are widely known, parents often believe that universities require conventional grades for admission. Fortunately, universities across the country are moving toward competency-based programs, allowing students to submit transcripts that don’t include grades.

Rapid technological advancements have changed the economy, and our educational practices need to adapt to this new reality. Through competency-based learning, a student’s progress is closely monitored and the curriculum is adapted based on their unique strengths. The focus on developing critical skills at an early age, as opposed to attaining a certain grade, helps better prepare students for higher education and beyond.

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