Educator Dr. Amber Howard is dedicated to using fair and effective learning methods for students.
“The traditional time-based education system requires measuring students using standardized assessments,” said Howard, assistant professor of education at Missouri State University. “But there is no classroom that has all standardized students.”
When Howard taught elementary school in 2015, she began using elements of an alternative education system called competency-based learning (CBL).
With the support of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the Success Ready Student Network (SRSN) is advancing the development of CBL. The SRSN is a collaborative initiative that provides support for Missouri public schools using CBL.
What is CBL?
Competency-based learning is a system that personalizes education for all students.
“CBL places students at the center of learning,” Howard said. “It humanizes education in ways traditional systems fail to do.”
Students make decisions about their learning experiences, including how they create and present their knowledge. They move at their own pace, progressing to new material only after they’ve demonstrated mastery of previous material.
Teachers provide clear and measurable expectations and give timely, specific feedback to each student.
“CBL focuses on student growth rather than grades and points,” Howard said. “Teachers can focus more on connecting with and helping students rather than measuring them with a standardized assessment.
“Students are more reflective and report that they care more about their learning as a result of CBL and ungrading.”
The Success-Ready Students Work Group – which COE Dean Dr. Barri Tinkler participated in – developed a framework of eight elements to describe CBL. One element is Real World Learning, which helps prepare students for high school, college and the workplace.
The future of education
Howard believes CBL can be used in all grade levels, including higher education.
“I’ve seen it used in The Bear Cave program in communication, the Springfield Way Internship program in Reynolds College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities and more,” she said.
DESE has supported an assessment waiver to bypass the annual Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test for districts with high quality CBL systems.
“This waiver would replace standardized assessments at the end of the year with alternative reporting measures that center students rather than centering a test,” Howard said.
“By providing more equitable and just assessment processes, I believe CBL has the potential to transform education.”
Howard is working with the SRSN and Fremont Elementary to help strengthen CBL practices in the Springfield community and beyond.