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Competency-based Education in Grades K-12

Image of a child on a stand

January 2016
Author: Kim Potts

Legislative Brief

Competency-based education (CBE) is a concept of allowing students to learn at their own pace and awarding credit for evidence of proficiency, not for the amount of time spent in a classroom. CBE may also be referred to as mastery-based learning or proficiency-based learning. Although CBE is often linked to higher education, some states have adopted CBE practices in their K-12 education systems. School implementation of CBE can be visualized along a spectrum. At one end, the most “pure” form of CBE is one in which students move to the next learning level only after demonstrating mastery of concepts; in this type of system, schools have no traditional grade levels. At the other end of the spectrum, schools retain some traditional school organization, including grade levels, but may adapt how they assess student learning by having courses with defined core competencies. This brief contains information about Tennessee laws, rules, and policies that may affect the use of CBE in districts and schools; competency-based approaches at the K-12 level taken in some other states and districts; current efforts to assist states in developing competency-based K-12 systems; and research studies concerning CBE.