Thursday, March 26, 2015

Making the Grade in CBE

I recently reviewed Gregory Arbuckle's Educause article on his challenges in implementing Competency-Based Education (CBE). I was pleased to hear his passion for CBE, and his comments about how CBE can help to drive alignment between industry needs and educational outcomes - comments that those struggling to act on Ray Ivany's ONE Nova Scotia report (Now or Never) would be well-advised to heed. Arbuckle also spoke of the frustration of trying to manage grading basis in a CBE environment. 
It is great to see the resurgence of interest in Competency Based Education, but if there is a return to this very effective model and pedagogy, then I only wish that those adopting it would also understand that there is little opportunity to truly resolve the dichotomy of grading practice between CBE and academic approaches. They simply don't typically talk about the same notion of performance. That being said, there certainly are ways to address the needs of academic institutions to interpret learner evaluation in a currency that is not native to CBE. 
From my understanding and experience in CBE, competency performance in CBE can be approached using a mastery scale that is associated with the DACUM model (of some time back) - a scale that assigns a value from 1-4 on demonstration of competency (see Mark Rosenburg's blog piece for a relatively recent discussion on this scale). 
In our college (similar to Arbuckle's situation) we also struggle with the need to communicate with academic institutions and individuals who think that 76% has a particular meaning regarding what a learner can do. The College requires that all learners must demonstrate minimum (entry-level or novice) competency in all outcomes of the program and course (as defined by industry). Since we sometimes have to report grades, then we also assume that such competency would meet a minimum grade of 60% or 70% (the program minimum pass mark). Students who are able to demonstrate a higher level along that scale or who come to us with experience or even mastery of an outcome/competency may achieve grades of 80 or even 90. However, this is just a way to appease those who don't get the idea that a 1 or 2 is a perfectly acceptable level of competency for entry level employees. Since 100-based grading is irrelevant in a true competency-based pedagogy, matching up the breakpoints is really - well, academic.
An interesting new approach may be found in the use of portfolio and badges (Mozilla's Open Badges initiative) and I think this holds great significance for CBE institutions. Having authentic, evidence-based, experiential assessment of competency should be welcomed warmly by industry - except, perhaps, by those populated by traditional academics.

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