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Competency-based Assessment at Young Women’s Leadership Charter School

Competency-based Assessment at Young Women's Leadership Charter School

In 2002, the Young Women's Leadership Charter School (YWLCS) in Chicago instituted a radically new system for awarding course credit that is helping its students master course material, graduate from high school, and enroll in higher education at rates far exceeding those of demographically similar schools. A nonselective public school that serves primarily low-income minority students, YWLCS graduated 79% of its students in 2005, a figure 1.5 times higher than Chicago Public Schools' overall 52% graduation rate that year.

School leaders have implemented a system for student assessment that moves away from tying credit to seat time. Instead, the school recognizes the continuous nature of student learning by awarding credit for specific competencies demonstrated at any point in a student's high school career.

With a commercial partner, the school developed a data system designed specifically for use in a competency-based program. Throughout the year, YWLCS teachers evaluate student work and go to the system to assign each student a proficiency rating of High Performance, Proficient, or Not Yet Proficient for each key learning objective associated with the class. Students earn credit for classes in which they demonstrate proficiency on at least 70% of academic course outcomes.

The data system uses the proficiency data that teachers enter to create a dynamic record of each student's progress that is updated daily and is accessible to teachers, parents, and students. Teachers can use the data system to target their instruction and remediation strategies for current students. In addition, students can use their own data to identify the courses in which they are not yet proficient and work with their teachers to develop a plan for mastering unmet standards.

If students demonstrate a competency after the end of the year has passed, future teachers can update students' proficiency ratings in the data system to reflect what they have learned since the conclusion of a course.

YWLCS compiles information from the data system into formal reports of student achievement, converting proficiency ratings into grade point average equivalents, to ensure that its graduates' competencies are recognized by colleges, sources of financial aid, and other external parties. This competency-based approach is producing results: 90% of YWLCS students who graduated in 2009 were accepted to college or another postsecondary option.

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