Competency-based assessments, or CBAs, are growing in popularity as employers and institutions alike begin to shift from a strict time-based approach to education to a more flexible, responsive, and knowledge-based model. CBAs are a tool to gauge subject mastery and, through those measurements, move a student on to more challenging or useful learning experiences — building efficiency and value in the process. And for graduates of CBA-centered programs, the model offers some very real professional advantages:
3 Types of CBAs
It’s difficult to understand competency-based assessment models without first understanding how they’re defined and used. CBAs typically fall into three categories; they evaluate what a student has learned in the past, what a student has absorbed from a particular course or during a semester, or what a student is learning currently. Briefly-defined, the three main types of CBAs are:
1. Prior Learning Assessments. PLAs test what a student has learned outside the classroom, usually through employer training programs, military service, independent study, or volunteer work. Successful PLA scores can result in the awarding of college credit, professional certification, or higher placement in a program of study.
2. Summative Assessments. As the name suggests, summative assessments provide a snapshot or summary of what a student has learned over a finite period of time. These types of evaluations are usually given via traditional testing methods that use essay or multiple choice questions.
3. Formative Assessments. Formative assessments help students during the process of the learning, allowing instructors to focus efforts, customize lesson plans, and get real-time feedback as students work through curriculum.
How CBAs Help Students, Colleges, and Employers
1. Students identify areas where they need to build skill. CBAs help students cut through the theory of education and drill down to the specific skills and knowledge areas where their focus is most needed. In this way, assessments can provide valuable objective feedback that a student may not be able to get independently. Clarifying where improvements are most needed can save time and money — two high-priority areas for nearly every student.
2. Students are adept at synthesizing and demonstrating knowledge. Depending on the program of study, the process of learning can often seem theoretical or abstract. Through well-administered CBAs, students learn to synthesize and communicate what they’re learning and identify areas that need more attention. Arguably, these skills not only help us professionally, they are the essential tools of lifetime learners
3. Students are confident that their skills match employer requirements. Students who are entering the job market for the first time can benefit from the knowledge that their skills match employer expectations. In this way, both the process and the results of competency-based assessments build a level of confidence that can only help newly-minted professionals compete.
4. CBAs allow colleges to meet employer expectations successfully. For institutions of higher learning, competency-based assessments help demonstrate that programs are meeting their intended goals and students are walking away equipped with the skills necessary to be successful in their fields — two key messages that any recruitment and marketing effort should aim to convey. Tactically, CBAs help colleges and universities build better programs by efficiently monitoring what's working and what’s not. Changes can be made to reconfigure resources as-needed without long time horizons that depend on informal and subjective feedback from employers or alumni.
5. Employers know where their investment is going. Employers are drawn to competency-based education because it removes some of the risk involved in the hiring process. Students who have demonstrated their knowledge and skill in a specific area through CBAs are less likely to have surprise educational shortfalls that require employers to supply on-the-job training or make other compensations. Training is an expensive endeavor for employers and it helps immensely to be able to predict and minimize that investment up front.
Whether administered through a workforce program, college, or university, competency-based assessments can help results-focused learners compete in a marketplace that’s fueled more and more by applicable skills. For students and employers, CBAs echo an important — perhaps revolutionary — idea in today’s work world: What you can do is more important than where you learned to do it.
At Enrollment Builders, our team of consultants offer a broad range of services designed to help institutions reach and retain students, build better programs, and graduate better prepared professionals. If you’d like to learn more about what we do, contact us at 513-518-7824 or request information here.