Intrinsically intertwined: student perspectives of successes and challenges in a competency-based public high school
Sullivan, Susan Cater
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A shift in education paradigms has begun to take hold in the American public school system. Increasingly states are awarding waivers allowing schools and districts to move away from the traditional Carnegie time-based approach to teaching and learning (Worthen and Pace, 2014). One innovative effort toward school reform that has shown demonstrable increases in student success is competency-based education (Haystead, 2010). This education model offers self-paced, standards-based curriculum that requires students to demonstrate proficiency in content before advancing (Borre, 2012; Worthen and Pace, 2014). Extant school reform literature focuses primarily on adult perspectives; however, in order for lasting school reform efforts to succeed, the inclusion of student perspectives is critical (Silva, White, and Toch, 2015). This intrinsic case study was conducted at a public competency-based high school to investigate youth perspectives of components that contribute to student success and to identify components that could be improved to support student success. Youth participants in this study consist of students enrolled in a high school that was included in a whole-district adoption of competency-based education, reaching full implementation in 2012 (Sommers, 2015). The study asked students, from their perspectives, to identify: 1) which components of competency-based education support student success, 2) how those identified components support student success, 3) which element of competency-based education could be improved in order to increase student success, and 4) how improving those components would contribute to an increase in student success. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews conducted with ten youth, and two administrators. Additional data was collected through researcher-generated field notes and relevant artifacts. Results indicate two distinct categories contributing to student success: 1) School-Level and 2) Student-Level. Results indicate three categories youth participants identified as needing improvement to support student success: 1) Increased Learning Facilitator access, 2) Technology, and 3) Advisory Period. Multiple components are discussed for each category. Suggestions for further research are included.