Competency based assessment in dynamics

Kurt M. DeGoede, Elizabethtown College


This paper examines the effectiveness and limitations of implementing a competency-based grading system in Engineering Dynamics. Rather than assessing the students on how well they performed the many skills studied (traditional grading system) students were assessed on how many skills they can do well (competency or mastery-based grading). To earn a passing grade in the competency-based grading system, students demonstrated proficiency on two foundational skills for dynamic analysis. Proficiency required solving a problem in a test environment, assessed as correct or containing only trivial errors. In our curriculum, prerequisites are met with a grade of C- or higher. To earn this grade, students must have further demonstrated competency in two additional skills, determined as required for continued advanced study in dynamics. Students could demonstrate proficiency on additional skills to earn higher grades. Each skill increased the final letter grade by 1/3 of a grade. Comparisons were made using the rate at which students demonstrated proficiency. Competency-based offerings of the course were compared to a similar group of students assessed with a more traditional grading system (2014 offering). In the competency-based courses, >93% of the students demonstrated proficiency on the required skills, compared to 43% in the traditional offerings (Chi-Squared p<0.01). Several aspects of course design can help foster the successful use of the competency-based system of assessment. A structure where the additional skills are not co-dependent for developing competency allows the course to have no more than two independent groups of students. A physical classroom environment conducive to managing parallel groups working on different sets of skills fosters effective use of class time. Students move at different rates, so the instructor must create frequent opportunities to demonstrate competencies.