The relationship between competency-based education and direct assessment

November 8, 2017

Competency-based education has long been a pillar of Capella University’s approach to education.

Instead of simply logging hours in the classroom and taking exams, students must demonstrate their competencies—a set of knowledge, skills, and abilities—as they move along the road to their degree. A business student, for example, might have to show she can read a balance sheet or craft a marketing plan before she moves on to the next level of learning. Key skills, abilities, and knowledge must be shown.

Capella’s FlexPath option takes this competency-based education one step further. FlexPath students work independently and set their own pace. “You control your class schedule and set your own deadlines so it fits your life, not the other way around,” says Kim Pearce, Capella’s associate vice president of academic quality and effectiveness.

Using suggested source materials or resources of their own choosing, students prepare themselves to demonstrate their competencies through real-life authentic assessments. If material is familiar to a student (perhaps she often reads balance sheets at work, for instance), she may be able to complete the assessment and demonstrate the competency without much effort—speeding up her progress.

If the material is unfamiliar, however, she may choose to take more time to prepare herself. Or if her schedule doesn’t allow sufficient time for study, she may put off taking the assessment until she is ready—something that simply would not be possible in a traditional classroom or in Capella courses based on weekly units and quarterly terms.

The Definition of direct assessment

Until recently, the value of education was measured on earned credit hours. In other words, the hours that students logged in the classroom were attached to credit values—and these values helped education officials determine need for financial aid.

Today, in order to qualify for federal financial aid, competency-based education providers can get approval to use direct assessment of learning, rather than time, to measure students’ progress. So far, Capella is one of only seven universities to gain approval for its direct assessment offering (FlexPath) from both their regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission in Capella’s case, and the U.S. Department of Education.

Capella has developed FlexPath options for undergraduate and graduate programs in Business, Education, Health Care, Information Technology, Nursing, and Psychology. What’s more, FlexPath offers competency transcripts that can be used with current or future employers. “It brings the competencies you’ve demonstrated to life,” Pearce says, “so employers know exactly what skills you have. Graduates have used them to show they can do the work required for getting stretch projects or promotions. Employers don’t have to guess what your degree really stands for.”

To learn more about competency-based education:

What Is Competency-Based Education?

To learn more about the direct assessment model:

Are You Competent? Prove It

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