Steve Singer, a teacher in Pennsylvania, writes here about the latest fad among entrepreneurs and politicians: competency-based education.


At long last, schools will get rid of the annual high-stakes testing that provoked parents to opt out.


In the new world of competency-based education, students will be assessed continuously, every day, as they work on their modules.


Here is how he begins:


Welcome to class, children.


Please put your hands down, and sit at your assigned seat in the computer lab.


Yes, your cubicle partitions should be firmly in place. You will be penalized if your eyes wander into your neighbors testing… I mean learning area.


Now log on to your Pearson Competency Based Education (CBE) platform.


Johnny, are you reading a book? Put that away!


Are we all logged on? Good.


Now complete your latest learning module. Some of you are on module three, others on module ten. Yes, Dara, I know you’re still on module one. You’ll all be happy to know each module is fully aligned with Common Core State Standards. In fact, each module is named after a specific standard. Once you’ve mastered say Module One “Citing Textual Evidence to Determine Analysis” you will move on to the next module, say “Determining Theme or Central Idea for Analysis.”


Johnny, didn’t I tell you to put away that book? There is no reading in school. You’re to read the passages provided by the good people at Pearson. No, you won’t get a whole story. Most of the passages are non-fiction. But I think there is a fun passage about a pineapple coming up in your module today. Isn’t that nice?…


Thanks to the good people at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Gates Foundation, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, The state and federal government have mandated a much more efficient way of determining student learning. Back in the day, they forced schools to give one big standardized test in Reading and Math every year. Teachers would have to scramble with test prep material to make sure all learners could pass the test, because if students didn’t get passing marks, the teacher was out on her butt.


We’ve done away with such silliness now. Thankfully the government got rid of yearly high stakes standardized testing. What we do now is called Competency Based Education. That’s what this program is called. It’s kind of like high stakes standardized testing every day. So much more efficient, so much more data to use to prove you know this set of basic skills written by the testing companies with hardly any input from non-experts like classroom teachers.


I might be inclined to dismiss this scenario as a scare tactic, but I heard New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia describe the coming shift to embedded assessment, which is the model of Questar, the new testing system for the state, beginning in 2016-17. Competency-based assessment occurs seamlessly, every day, without the students knowing that they are being tested as they answer questions about what they read.


If you love standardized testing as part of the daily life of the school, you will love CBE.