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Leadership Skills and Implementation

Why are Some Schools Moving Away from Seat Time?

By The SHARE Team

Many schools that have experimented with competency-based learning have begun to adopt that model and move away from the old seat time model. It’s not just a small percentage of schools, either, but rather a substantial number of those that try competency-based programs. What’s all the fuss about?

The “fuss” is quite simply that many schools are seeing improved results when they move away from old forms of learning and implement the new competency-based models. What they’re finding is that students are more engaged, cause fewer problems in class, and achieve greater mastery of a subject.

On top of that, competency-based learning is also more fulfilling for faculty as it leverages each faculty member’s individual skills, interests, and strengths.

Benefits of competency-based learning

There are many reasons schools are moving away from seat time and toward competency-based learning.

These reasons include:

  • Competency-based learning keeps each student from getting bored.
  • Competency-based learning allows each student to work at his or her own pace.
  • An increase in student engagement and entire class engagement.
  • Better grades and test scores for each individual student, and for the class as a whole.
  • More engaged and better-behaved students because they move at their own pace with the curriculum.
  • A greater mastery of the subject, done in a less frustrating and more invigorating way.
  • Competency-based educational programs utilize human resources in a way that maximizes each teacher’s skills and interests. In other words, teachers are allowed to operate at their maximum effectiveness instead of being crammed into a square hole—and they get to enjoy it while they’re doing it! The staffing patterns opened up by schools that use competency-based learning benefit students, teachers, administration, the community—and the district budget!


There is no single strategy or curriculum when it comes to individualized learning. In fact, while someday it may be possible to institute broad overall goals and standards, the very nature of individualized, competency-based learning ensures that no two students follow exactly the same curriculum.

Who’s doing it and how?

Throughout the country, there are a number of private and even public school systems that have moved away from a “seat time” approach to a more individualized, competency-based approach.

These districts include:

  • Adams County District 50, CO: Replaced grade levels with a total of 10 “Learning Levels” which students can work through at their own pace. The program is meant to help students achieve the required standards at each level before they move on to the next, instead of pushing them from one grade to another.
  • Chugach School District, AK: Like Adams County District 50, the Chugach School District replaced grade levels with 10 competency-based performance levels. Their efforts gave birth to the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC), whose performance-based model is now used in at least 16 schools and districts across the U.S.
  • The Young Women’s Leadership Charter School of Chicago: The YWLCSC is Chicago’s only all-girl public school. More importantly, the school awards credit for competencies that students display throughout their high school careers. Each student earns credit for every class in which she displays at least 70% mastery of subject via tests, work, and other classroom outcomes.

Other resources

Faculty members and administrators who are interested in moving away from seat time requirements and more toward an individualized, competency-based learning experience may wish to check the following organizations and information sites:

  • Diploma Plus is a student-centric alternative for high school. It was developed for high school students who are “over-age and under-credited,” but the model may be put to use in other beneficial ways as well!
  • The Re-Inventing Schools Coalition provides a new model for both public and private schools. Its focus is not limited just to students who need help graduating but instead serves students of all age levels and competencies.
Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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