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Standards, Competencies, Knowledge and Skills

Standards, Competencies, Knowledge and Skills

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, students examine standards and competencies and analyze how they connect to knowledge and skills. In addition, students compare and contrast standards and competencies.

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In this tutorial, we'll take an in depth look at the concept of standards, competencies, skills, and knowledge. These terms are all very closely related, so let's talk about the similarities and differences among these terms. We'll begin by discussing the terms competency, skills, and content.

We'll then see how these terms connect to competency based education and we'll look a little more closely at standards. Finally, we'll examine the similarities and differences between standards and competencies. Let's get started. Let's begin by examining the terms competency skills and content. In instructional design, learning goals may address student capabilities or student knowledge or in some cases, both.

For example, here's a learning goal that addresses a student capability. Students will be able to graph a linear equation. This is a concrete skill that students can demonstrate. A knowledge based learning goal might read, students will understand that the y-intercept of a linear equation indicates the coordinate at which the graph of the line intersects the y-axis.

So we absolutely can have learning goals that address student knowledge, it's more difficult, if not impossible, to measure how much a student understands something. And so that's why we'll sometimes see learning goals that actually address both understanding and capabilities. Like students will be able to graph a linear equation and to explain the significance of the y-intercept in the equation.

This will help us to better pinpoint whether or not students actually do understand the meaning of that y-intercept. In various educational resources, the idea of student knowledge may be referred to by any number of terms, including knowledge, topics, or content. In this course, we will generally use the term content. It's important to realize that content knowledge can exist at many different levels of complexity and that content knowledge is relevant to the learning targets, the objectives, and the outcomes that we set for our courses.

You'll see student capabilities referred to most commonly as skills or competencies. A skill is a singular or individual student capability. So if you have a learning target that indicates a student capability, we would consider that to be a skill because a target indicates just one singular learning goal. A competency, on the other hand, is a concrete student ability that incorporates multiple skills.

So if you have an outcome or an objective that indicates a student capability, we would consider that set of capabilities to be a competency because outcomes and objectives can incorporate multiple components. Remember that competencies need to be connected back to the content knowledge.

So with a better understanding of how competencies, skills, and content all relate to one another, let's take a closer look at competency based education. In CBE, students are expected to master skills at a pre-defined level of proficiency or mastery. When students demonstrate this mastery, they then move onto the next competency on their learning path.

Competency based education is sometimes referred to as outcome based education because progression along the learning path is related to the outcomes or the objectives. But in a truly competency based learning environment, the decisions about student progression are driven by student demonstration of proficiency. So it's not necessarily just the outcomes that we're considering.

It's students demonstration of their competency or their proficiency in those particular skills. So thinking back to the learning goals about graphing linear equations, here are what some related competencies might look like. Students will identify the slope and y-intercept in a linear equation that is written in slope intercept form. This would be considered a pretty low level of proficiency.

If the equation is already written in slope intercept form, all that students need to do is point out the slope and the y-intercept in the places in which they appear in the equation. So a higher level of proficiency would be students being able to graph the linear equation that is written in slope intercept form. This requires them to incorporate some meaning into the numbers that are in the places of the slope and the y-intercept. And to demonstrate that they know how to incorporate those onto a graph.

An even greater level of proficiency might be students being able to graph a linear equation that is not written in slope intercept form. Because this would require them to first use algebra to rewrite that equation in slope intercept form and then again assign meaning to the slope and the y-intercept. So we can see here the progression of the levels of mastery or the levels of expected proficiency throughout these competencies.

Next, let's talk about the standards that you'll be addressing in competency based education. Remember that standards define what students should know. We would refer to this as the content knowledge. And also what students should be able to do, or the skills that students need to attain. Standards are typically organized by subject area or content area and also in grade level spans or by individual grade levels.

These standards can span a broad range of proficiency levels or mastery levels. Usually, the goal behind the standards is to outline all of the goals or knowledge or competencies for the given content area. Standards are intended to be a very comprehensive list. On the other hand, while the term standards can refer to a whole set of standards, we can also use the singular term standard to refer to just one individual standard from the overall set.

When standards focus on content knowledge, we tend to refer to those as content standards or subject standards. And when standards refer to capabilities, we usually refer to those as practice standards, performance standards, or application standards. Different sets of standards are going to be written differently. So depending on the situation, an individual standard from the group might most closely resemble a learning target or a learning objective or even an outcome.

It's important that you familiarize yourself with your own content or skill standards so you know how to read them effectively. So how do standards compare to competencies? While standards and competencies are definitely closely linked, in very general terms, a standard outlines the skills or knowledge that students are going to possess by the end of the school year whereas competencies generally outline the skills and knowledge that students are going to obtain as they progress towards meeting those end of the year standards.

Competencies generally outline predetermined mastery or proficiency levels. And the competencies build on one another. So that by the end of the school year, as the student has demonstrated proficiency and moved on to more and more competencies, that student will have mastered all of the outcomes or competencies and that leads them to obtaining that final level of proficiency required for the course.

The competencies need to be connected to the content and they need to specify the individual skills along with the degree to which students need to be mastering those skills. Let's take a look at the standard from the Common Core math standards for grade three. This standard involves having students tell the right time to the nearest minute and solve word problems involving addition and subtraction of time intervals.

Here are some competencies that might be written to support this standard. We might begin by having students tell time to the nearest hour and then to the nearest 15 minutes and then to the nearest minute. After students have mastered those competencies, we might begin to move towards having them solve word problems.

Perhaps we would begin with just addition of time intervals and only move on to subtraction after students have already mastered the addition problems. We can see how these competencies build on one another and how students could work their way through these competencies to achieve overall mastery of this standard by the end of the year.

Here's another example from the Common Core standards, this time for English and language arts in grade seven. This standard asks students to determine the theme or central idea of a text and to analyze the development of that theme or idea over the course of the text and finally to provide an objective summary of the text.

So a series of competencies for this standard might include having students determine the theme of a text then having students describe how the identified theme is developed over the course of the text. And maybe next having students write an objective summary when the teacher has given them the central idea.

After students have mastered each of these individual competencies, perhaps the next competency on the list would involve having students both identify the theme and write the summary. In this tutorial, we examined the terms competency, skills, and content. We saw how these ideas fit together to create the foundation for competency based education and we talked about how content standards can be broken down into competencies that build over the course of a year in order to help students achieve mastery of the year end standards.

So here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. Select one of your content standards and see if you can write a series of competencies for that standard that build on one another to help students achieve mastery. For more information on how to apply what you learned in this video, please view the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. The additional resources section includes hyperlinks useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Standards, Competencies, Knowledge and Skills"

(00:00 - 00:35) Introduction

(00:36 - 02:53) Competency, Skills, & Content

(02:54 - 04:57) Competency Based Education

(04:58 - 06:26) Standards

(06:27 - 09:04) Standards vs Competencies

(09:05 - 09:26) Review

(09:27 - 09:57) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

The Charlotte Danielson Framework for Effective Teaching  and Standards‐Based Instruction

This resource provides a side by side look at the Danielson framework with questions to consider when applying the component and its indicators to focus on standards based instruction.

Academic Content Standards: Creating Consistency across Oregon 

This resource from the Oregon State Department provides a clear framework explaining the CCSS, the rationale behind adoption and implementation, and shifts that will result in instruction and focus. This is a clear communication tool that educators may consider referencing when developing their own understanding of the shift, or in developing a communication strategy for their organization.