Nova High School

High School

Competency Based Learning

What is Competency Based Learning?

Nova’s teaching and learning system differs from traditional schools.  The student and their teachers collaborate to define the student’s specific interests and develop expectations for fulfilling competencies based on those interests.  A competency can be defined as a concept, a skill, or any specific knowledge essential for passing a class.

Instead of measuring student knowledge on the basis of teacher-assigned tests, homework, and reports, the student and teacher work together to define and assess mastery so that the credits earned correlate with the student’s understanding and application of the key concepts and skills covered in the class.

There is no one standard way to demonstrate a competency.  It is unique to each student.  In an American History in the 1960’s class, demonstrating competency could range from recording an oral history from an adult living during that time, or creating a series of posters inspired by the protests during the Vietnam War. Assessment in a math class could incorporate cooperative group projects, interviews and an occasional quiz.

The School Day

Nova starts school at 8:45 and ends the day at 4:00 pm. We operate a block schedule where every class meets for 85 minutes M/W or T/Th and alternate Fridays (5 class sessions every two weeks). All classes are open to all students. In a competency-based structure, there is no ceiling to student learning; pathways to earn honors credit are available to every student.

As a school based in a competency- and inquiry-based teaching and learning system, students are expected to engage in work both inside and outside of their classes. All assigned work is based in the philosophy that schoolwork must be meaningful and purposeful and relevant for students which increases both interest and engagement, as well as application and complement of coursework.

Earning Credit

Our competencies fall into 4 categories: skills, content, conceptual/critical thinking, and community. Our teachers consistently differentiate for all learners in their classes so that every student is challenged to engage and deepen their thinking and their work. Our curriculum is developed by our teachers based on our curricular philosophy and is rooted in state and national standards.

Nova uses performance and portfolio assessment to gauge the level and depth of student work.  Students must meet or exceed the competencies in a course and obtain at least the equivalent of a traditional “B” grade in a class to earn credit. This is recorded as a “Pass” on their transcripts. Students who perform at a higher level are also eligible to earn honors credit.

All classes are offered for credit. A standard semester-long class at Nova (as at any Seattle public high school) is valued at 0.5 credits. Nova students take a minimum of five classes, earning the equivalent of 2.5 credits each semester. A student, with coordinator approval, can take additional classes as their schedule allows with class loads varying semester-to-semester.

Because of the flexibility of Independents, the amount of credit earned varies, but most independents, upon completion of competencies or the predetermined number of logged hours, are valued at 0.5 credits.

Honors Credit

Students who want to receive honors credit in a class should speak with the teacher at the beginning of the semester to discuss criteria.  Each teacher specifies the criteria for honors credit in his or her class.  It could include extra work, and standards for the required work that meet or exceed base competency levels. Honors credit is not offered in all classes.

To learn more, please check out  How Nova Works  or call 206-252-2500 for more information.