Competency-based learning the focus of Utah education meeting

The Utah Legislature meets in session until March 10, 2016. (Bryan Pearson)
The Utah Education Interim Committee met Wednesday, May 18 to discuss competency-based education in Utah schools.  (Bryan Pearson)

The Utah Education Interim Committee met on Wednesday, May 18 to discuss the role of competency-based education in Utah schools.

Representatives from Juab school district schools explained how competency-based education practices help each student to learn what they need to learn in order to advance to the next subject. It lets students take their own pace in education so they learn what is required on their own terms.

Utah Senate bill 143 defines competency based learning as “A system where a student advances to higher levels of learning when the student demonstrates competency of concept and skills regardless of time, place or pace.”

Interim State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson began the conversation in the meeting by explaining a broad overview of competency-based learning. Time, place and pace are all up to the student in this learning model. Students are responsible for learning each topic or principle before they can move on to the next.

“If students are really clear about what’s expected, then we are more likely as a system to be flexible around those competencies,” Dickson said.

Dickson and other educators presented their case that competency-based learning is something that all Utah Schools can use. Royd Darrington, principal of Juab High School, has been participating with his teachers and students in competency-based learning. He was able to answer most of the questions that the Education Interim Committee had about the system.

“As you as lawmakers look at education in Utah, the thing that I think needs to be switched a little bit is that competency-based education is just a mindset,” Darrington said.

Darrington made it clear to the committee that he believes competency-based education is simple and has helped his students progress. The school district hasn’t made it the only way that they can teach their students, but it is important to their educational process. Juab county schools want to help their students to achieve their dreams, and they have found that this style of learning is helping students to do so.

“Competency-based learning is simply one of many tools and practices that has to be in place for us to meet our students at a personal level,” Principal Darrington said.

Darrington brought math teachers Christie Tolbert and Natalie Darrington from Juab School District to share their experiences in the classroom with committee. Natalie Darrington explained how teaching with a focus on student competency has helped student attitudes towards learning. The students in Juab schools are learning that if they don’t understand something, they will eventually.

“It’s okay for students to not get something, as long as they say ‘I don’t get it yet,’” Natalie said.

The committee had a few questions about competency-based learning for the educators, and appeared to be overall pleased with the explanation that the Juab School District provided. Senator Howard A. Stephensen agreed with the school district representatives on the matter.

“Every student has intrinsic motivation to achieve these kinds of things and when they say ‘I’m not good at converting fractions to decimals yet,’ that means that they get it and are going to get it,” Stephensen said.

The meeting provided the committee with a new perspective on competency-based learning. The Education Committee will continue to meet and decide the role competency-based education will play in Utah schools in the future.

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