Brandon Payne

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About Me

Welcome to my Mini-Course - From Coverage-Based to Competency-Based Education! My name is Brandon Payne and I currently teach ninth grade Algebra 1 in Sidney, NY, a small, rural community halfway between Binghamton and Oneonta, NY along Interstate 88. I enjoy every minute I get to spend in the classroom developing relationships with my students, teaching them how to become successful adults in the future, and maybe teaching some math concepts along the way. When I'm not in the classroom, I spend most of my time in some sporting arena, whether it's coaching the sports I have loved for years: golf, bowling, and tennis teams, or trying to get some practice in myself. I also officiate youth and adult softball in whatever weekend time remains.

Thank you for your interest in this mini-course! Any feedback is welcome; without feedback, there is no meaningful learning!

My Topic and Purpose

Imagine the "traditional" high school class: teacher standing in the front of the room, the students (hopefully) working feverishly to record all the notes from the board, having little time to practice the skills from that class, the all-too-short forty minute period running out, and trying it all again the next day. Though this is far from the ideal scenario, many teachers find their content-heavy courses following this pattern in the hopes of jamming as much information into the students' heads as possible. Even with the most lively lesson or energetic learning experience, much of the required information doesn't stick with the students long-term, causing even more heartache for the teacher as the year trundles on.

What if it were possible to alter the focus of instruction not to simply covering every topic in the curriculum, but to ensuring that every student masters every essential learning objective throughout a unit, semester, or school year? Competency-Based Education represents this transition, as teachers purposefully design their lessons, learning experiences, assessments, and classrooms to support high-level learning for all students, regardless of skill level or previous success with the topic.

The transition to Competency-Based Education is far from uniform, but integrates many of the features that exemplary classroom strive for. Students in these classes are motivated to return, even if they have not been successful yet (or ever). Students are taught to develop a growth mindset which is essential to success in school and life. Students are given immediate feedback about their progress, and use it to foster future success. Teachers are provided with accurate data about their students' progress, and can use it to effectively differentiate future instruction. Most of all, Competency-Based Design allows for personalized instruction, which rarely seems possible when nearly one-hundred students walk through a high school classroom door on a daily basis. This course highlights the essential features of Competency-Based Designed courses, the research to support the practice, and how it can be implemented into a real-life classroom with real-life kids and the real-life stress of the calendar looming.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

(1) describe the elements of a course constructed using Competency-Based Education.

(2) use a four-point Competency-Based Rubric to assess the learning of other students and myself.

(3) develop assessments aligned to essential learning objectives, ensuring the objective can be measured accurately.

(4) design a series of lessons implementing the elements of Competency-Based Design.

Needs Assessment

1. The Problem

In this era of data-driven instruction and teacher collaboration to improve student learning, school districts have begun experimenting, with the assistance of federal and state funds, with means of measuring student growth in critical areas of the curriculum. Teachers and school districts around the country have embraced collecting assessment data aligned to Student Learning Objectives, and have used this data to evaluate student learning, and provide insight into the learning experiences their teachers are providing for them in the classroom. (Briggs, et al., 2015, p. 1) Though this work can be used as an evaluation tool for teachers, it seems more evident that measuring student growth against teacher-created learning targets can do even more to provide clarity as to what students are expected to learn and provide a road map for what success looks like in the classroom.

Teaching is certainly more than standing in the front of a classroom showing students have to complete problems and watching them repeat the same skill back to you. Teachers recognize that all students learn at difference rates, using different instructional strategies, and requiring different supports that may or may not be provided within the class period. As a result, accurate data reflecting student achievement of specific skills is necessary to determine where each student falls, and supports may be needed to promote future learning. In states like Rhode Island, the competency-based instructional approach has results in the identification of student needs, the creation of individualized targets to prompt future growth, and the creation of authentic assessment to measure that growth. (Briggs, et al., 2015, p. 6).

The focus of this course is not the use of competency-based instruction to measure how well a teacher has preformed in assisting their students to new academic height. Instead, the focus is the creation, assessment, and analysis of learning targets and goals that can be used to promote student learning. The teacher is the certainly the person in charge of leading the students in their studies, but a strong support is needed for ultimate success.


2. What Will Be Learned?

Designing a course using the principles of competency-based instruction is three-fold: understanding what the principles are, how creating meaningful learning targets positively effects students achievement, and how assessments of various kinds can be used to determine whether the goal has been achieved. In this course, students will explore each of these areas at length. First, students will realize how a mindset shift from coverage to competency is beneficial for all learners in the classroom. Students in this course will then ensure the targets they create are measurable, clear, and aligned to the skills they are expecting their own learners to know and be able to do. Finally, when learning goals have not been achieved (as shown by the data collected) students will be prepared to create a response to provide needed supports in their classroom.

Analysis of the Learner and Context

3. The Learners

It is anticipated that students in this course will be practicing teachers in either the primary, secondary, or post-secondary level, though the content covered will be beneficial for pre-service teachers on their way into the profession. Students in this course will have some knowledge about creating learning targets for use in their classrooms, but this knowledge will be applied to assessing key learning goals for their students, and creating a classroom culture where essential skills will be practiced and refined using they are mastered.


4. Context for Instruction

It is an expectation, since this course is provided only online, that students in this course are familiar with their computers and are able to access course materials readily during the course. Google applications, such as Docs and Forms, are used to assess learning in this course, so access to a Google account is essential.


5. Exploring the Instructional Problem and Solution

Establishing a competency-based instructional approach in a classroom is not an overnight transition, as numerous pieces must be harmoniously integrated to create the desired effects: meaningful, measurable learning targets, authentic assessments of those targets, and individualized supports provided based on the results of the assessment. When working correctly, the competency-based approach reduces the likelihood of students falling behind their peers, prepares them for the demands for the next grade level, and promotes a growth mindset for students as they witness their own progress. The transition can be long and contain unforeseen circumstances, but the results speak for themselves once implemented.


6. Goals of this Mini-Course

The goal of this mini-course is to provide students with an awareness as to what competency-based design and instruction looks like, and how it can be applied in a classroom setting. This course will provide practicing teachers and pre-service teachers with insight in how to use teacher-created learning targets in a way that informs how they teach their students in the future, as a basis for authentic assessment of learning, and as a way for their students to recognize how they are doing.

Performance-Based Objectives

In this course, students will be able to:

(1) define Competency-Based Education in the context of the primary or secondary school classroom.

(2) compare and contrast the structure of courses implementing Competency-Based Design with courses using a traditional approach and reflect on the benefits and any potential drawbacks of each structure.

(3) assemble a selection of learning targets, written in student-friendly language, that can be used to assess student understanding of essential concepts.

(4) develop several formative assessments of different formats that are aligned to the course learning targets, and accurately assess student understanding of those targets.

(5) use hypothetical formative assessment data to arrange small group student interventions and develop reassessments that measure new student learning.

(6) create a sample series of lessons that implement the principles of Competency-Based Education using the students' chosen content area or grade level.

Task Analysis

Unit 1 - Defining Competency-Based Education

Essential Question: What is Competency-Based Education, and how does it differ, if at all, from traditionally designed courses?

By the end of this unit, you will be able to answer these questions:

(1) What are the components of Competency-Based Design?

(2) When my course is structured using Competency-Based Design, to what extent does my whole-group instruction change?

(3) What are the benefits and drawbacks of designing a course using the components Competency-Based Design, from the student and teacher perspective? How can the drawbacks be overcome so the Competency-Based structure can be implemented successfully?


Students should be prepared to complete 2 assessments during this unit.

  • A traditional quiz containing selected response and open response questions
  • A self-evaluation of your learning so far

Unit 2 - Assessing, and Reassessing, Student Learning in the Competency-Based World

Essential Question: How can assessments, both traditional and authentic, be used to gauge student understanding of essential learning targets, and be used to enhance future lessons for students of all abilities?

By the end of this unit, you will be able to answer these questions:

(1) How can learning targets, when created and used appropriately with students, be used to guide instruction and provide a "road map" for students?

(2) How can state, national, or local standards be broken down into student-friendly language to clarify what the students need to learn and do?

(3) What components do high quality assessments have? Are there any self-checks I can use to ensure my assessments are assessing what I need?

(4) What role do reassessments play in the learning process, and how do these assessments differ from other formative or summative assessments?

Students should be prepared to complete 4 assessments during this unit.


  • An assignment where students select a standard from a provided list, and create student friendly learning targets that can be assessed using a traditional and an authentic assessment.
  • 1 sample assessment (formative in nature) assessing the learning target(s) created during the previous assignment
  • A self-evaluation of your learning so far

Unit 3 - Creating Lessons Using the Competency-Based Design Structure

Essential Question: How can the Competency-Based Design model be used to create high-quality learning experiences in my classroom?

By the end of this unit, you will be able to answer these questions:

(1) How are Competency-Based Education and Standards-Based Grading related?

(2) Do I need to reassess my learning of any learning objective so far in this course?

(3) How can I apply the Competency-Based Design model to a series of lessons in my classroom?

Students should be prepared to complete a reassessment of any learning target they have not shown proficiency with yet. The students will also complete one authentic assessment, where they will create a series of three lesson plans to teach one or more learning targets. The first lesson with be presented to all learners, the second will be taught to all learners, with a focus on a few, and the third will be a lesson designed to reteach the content to the students who haven't got it yet.

Curriculum Map

Curriculum Map - Payne.png

References and Resources

Mead, M. (2015) From Formative Assessment to Tracking Student Mastery: The Road to Competency-Based Instruction. Retrieved from https://www.competencyworks.org/reflections/from-formative-assessment-to-tracking-student-mastery-the-road-to-competency-based-instruction/