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November 8, 2019

Product Showcase: Actionable, Scalable Competency-Based Assessment

Jim Liu, Head of Product

At Altitude Learning, our product development process is a synergy of innovative education models and product engineering best practices. Product design is guided by a relentless focus on educator and learner needs across current and future partner communities. Our team members undergo rigorous ongoing pedagogical training and discussions, and recently, we have shifted our focus to assessment. Our deep attention to both pedagogical best practices and the needs of our learners is evident throughout the Altitude Learning platform, especially in how we enable competency-based assessment across learning environments. 

What is competency-based assessment? 

Competency-based learning is a core pillar of learner-centered models, recognizing that learners have distinct strengths and needs as they work toward mastery. Education Reimagined defines this approach to learning in its transformational vision for education in the US:


Competency-based assessment operationalizes this approach to learning with visible cycles of feedback. It allows for learners to demonstrate learning through a variety of different mediums, at their own pace. A balance of formative and summative assessments provide feedback directly to learners that informs them to take their own next steps while guiding educator’s instructional strategies for each learner. 


The Altitude Learning platform enables competency-based assessment at scale by lowering the lift of implementation in the classroom. It makes learning targets visible, manages an iterative feedback cycle between educator and learner, and visualizes progress toward learning targets to inform next steps. These practices are among the six key elements of competency-based learning, identified in the CompetencyWorks and iNACOL brief “Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education,” which is based on common themes among schools and districts at the forefront of competency-based learning. Aligned to several of these key elements, here’s what competency-based assessment looks like in the platform:

Element 1: Embrace explicit learning progression or standards so that everyone will have a shared vision of what students should learn. 

Competency-based assessment starts with identifying the right “taxonomy,” whether it’s learning progressions, state or Common Core standards, competencies, social-emotional habits, custom learning targets, or any combination thereof. The objectives in these taxonomies define a shared vision of success beyond just academics, setting the guideposts for learners to demonstrate mastery. The Altitude Learning platform offers dozens of taxonomies across academic and social-emotional domains out of the box and can accommodate custom taxonomies. Objectives within taxonomies are embedded across the entire learning cycle, constantly making the “why” of learning visible for learners and educators.

Read Katie Martin’s article on developing a graduate profile and engaging in professional learning to help guide and operationalize your vision for learning and assessment.

One example of this consistent visibility is in the Learner View of Units, where learners can gain a high level view of their current learning arc. Objectives are clearly visible on the right side of the panel, contextualizing their daily assignments with the high level “whys.” 

In this Science PBL Unit, science and habit objectives are both incorporated to drive interdisciplinary learning. Learning objectives are always front and center for the learner as they refer to the Unit plan.

Element 2: Offer timely feedback and meaningful reassessments so that students can continue to progress and stay on track.

Feedback is the fuel for learner progress, informing them of what their next steps might be as they pursue learning targets. When educators provide specific and timely feedback against a learning objective, the learner can contextualize where they are now relative to their learning goal, making the feedback much more actionable. The Altitude Learning platform helps educators deliver objective-aligned feedback, on a formative and summative basis, across subjects and learning domains to drive next steps. 

Our “Redo Flow” stitches the feedback directly into a potential next step. Learners can make revisions and resubmit an assignment, informed by specific educator feedback. Rather than ending the conversation with a final score, the Altitude Learning platform helps foster a culture of iteration toward mastery. 

When a learner encounters a Card marked “redo,” they can click inside to access specific feedback provided in-line against their work. This feedback informs the next revision, driving meaningful reassessment opportunities.

Element 3: Provide adequate information infrastructure to support students, teachers, and school-wide continuous improvement. 

Continuous change is a given. Continuous improvement requires intentional refinements informed by actionable evidence that determine next steps. One facet of making evidence actionable is accessibility—having the right data in the right context to inform decisions. That’s why the platform was designed to show assessment data aligned to learning targets that span time periods, groups of learners, and different scopes of curricula. With a suite of surfaces that present data at an assignment (Progress), unit (Scorebook), and marking period (Progress Reports) level, educators can access data over time for an individual learner or flexible groups of learners. 

Another facet that helps drive improvement is being able to implement planning actions easily. The Altitude Learning platform ties learner data to immediate instructional next steps by embedding planning actions within data views. This saves educators time and makes evidence-driven improvement more scalable. 

Scorebook provides a mastery-based view of learner progress across groups. Educators can assign or create new Cards directly from this view, completing the learning cycle with ease.

A third facet of making evidence actionable is providing context that supplements data with artifacts of learning. These evidences of learning help educators and learners engage in deeper reflections and supplement qualitative data with additional insights. The Altitude Learning platform presents artifacts of learning aligned to competencies and enables easy access to evidence from data views. Together, the Altitude Learning platform suite of Progress, Scorebook, and Progress Reports creates a robust, clear, actionable picture of learner progress toward mastery that can be used by educators, learners, and families to inform next steps in learning. 

Wondering how to catalyze your shift to competency-based learning? Whether you are setting a vision or ready to make learning visible we can help you move forward. Get in touch with our team.