Personalized Competency-Based Learning, or PCBL, is gaining traction as an educational model throughout the United States, including in Utah.
Recognizing Utah’s interest in PCBL, researchers at Utah State University’s Center for the School of the Future dove in to research reporting on PCBL’s effectiveness in public education. This review of research resulted in a policy and research brief.
“Educational model implementations the size of PCBL is a heavy lift. We thought it would be useful to provide a summary of research findings related to PCBL, its effectiveness, and to inform general discussions around its adoption and implementation,” said David Forbush, associate director for the Center for the School of the Future at USU.
Using PCBL, students are encouraged to tailor their learning “based on their unique skills, abilities, interests, backgrounds and experiences,” according to the brief. State legislators and the Utah State Board of Education have discussed PCBL implementation and its objectives in the state’s public schools.
Proponents report a key advantage in most PCBL systems is in providing students digital technology to support personalized curriculum. Research reports revealed that test scores plummeted to historic lows nationwide following pandemic closures, even in areas where PCBL had been implemented — like Juab School District in central Utah.
Although Juab reported one of the highest graduation rates in the state after implementing PCBL (98% in 2021-22), ACT and state standardized testing scores in Juab School District were some of the lowest in the state that same year. Student scores in English, reading and science proficiency have dropped over the last five years. This was an unexpected trend when many anticipated PCBL would increase competency with individualization, choice and flexibility, and digital supplementation.
“PCBL’s adoption appears to be increasing nationally while current research evidence doesn’t appear to clarify the impacts of PCBL on K-12 student learning outcomes,” Fawson said.
The policy brief is authored by Parker Fawson, director for the Center for the School of the Future and the Emma Eccles Jones Endowed Chair in Early Education; and three colleagues: David E. Forbush, associate director for the Center for the School of the Future; D. Ray Reutzel, senior research fellow at the Center for the School of the Future; and Janice A. Dole, senior research fellow at the Center for the School of the Future.
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