Competency-Based and Personalized Learning


Disrupting traditional models of learning to create a student-centered system for the 21st century.

Our Point of View

Colorado schools and districts are embracing a broader definition of student success, one that includes academic and non-academic outcomes as well as essential skills. While supporting competency based and personalized learning, these educators also recognize that our current schools and systems are not designed to support all students in developing these skills at scale.

Through CEI’s work and that of partner schools, districts, and other organizations across the state, we are beginning to see exemplars of how policy can enable innovation in practice, from teaching and learning to increased assessment literacy and student and community engagement. Despite early, promising signs of growth, moving to competency-based and personalized approaches requires a shift in mindset and expectations from classrooms to central office. It involves a disruption across use of funds, time, and staffing. These are not insurmountable, and CEI’s vision is for this work to become the new normal for all students and teachers, across school systems and communities.

CEI leverages networked improvement communities, where district and school teams to learn from and with one another about the systems and structures required to design, implement, and scale this work. The result includes an increase in competency-based and personalized learning exemplars who are working together to overcome the hurdles in both practice and systems. Our work involves supporting educators in schools and central offices to:

  • Work with students and communities to develop transparent and articulated competencies tied to a graduate profile;
  • Design and implement formative assessments that support student growth mindset and purpose;
  • Promote instructional practice that supports individual students’ growth and agency; and
  • Leverage summative assessments that allow for varied demonstrations of articulated competencies.

Fortunately, as a state, Colorado is welcoming of policies that can enable school districts to lead this change. For example, Colorado’s Graduation Guidelines, which are some of the most flexible in the nation, enable districts to establish local graduation requirements that include both traditional ways for students to demonstrate college and career readiness, such as SAT and ACT scores, as well as performance-based demonstrations like portfolios and capstone projects. When done well, the latter, less traditional methods of measuring college- and career-readiness can actually show more of what students know and are able to do.

Schools and districts that embrace this work also are pushing themselves to rethink overall assessment practices, aligned pedagogies, and school and system structures to be more inclusive and empowering of students who have been under-served by our traditional systems and the educators who are tailoring instruction to students’ interests, needs, and learning styles.

Here Are The Questions We’re Asking

How might we…

Leverage innovation at the school or central office levels to inform, align, and diffuse competency-based and personalized learning mindsets, practices, and conditions system-wide?

Build systemwide practices and structures that promote performance-based assessments in ways that empower students and ensure equity?

Support schools and districts to engage their broader communities in authentically informing and sharing ownership for this work?

Featured Project: Assessment for Learning Project (ALP)

Download the ALP one-pager to learn more about this multi-year grant program and field-building initiative supported by a group of national partners including the Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) and Educause. ALP is a national community that invites educators to fundamentally rethink the roles that assessment should play in our K-12 education system. CEI participated in ALP during the 2018-19 school year, supporting eight districts and 15 schools to design or enhance performance-based demonstrations of PWR under the Graduation Guidelines.

Read more about ALP in Education Week.