DOK and Competency-Based Learning
Since 2008-09, New Hampshire high school students have been able to work with educators to create personalized learning plans—with course credit awarded for mastery, not time in class. Time in class is based on the Carnegie Unit or seat time. Demonstrating what you know based on mastery is called “Competency-based Learning.” Rose Colby and Fred Bramante wrote “Off the Clock: Moving Education from Time to Competency.” about New Hampshire’s journey to personalize learning. Rose shared with me their story. I bought their book. I’m curious and want to see how this works. How does this work?
Academic credits can be earned year round through internships, online courses, overseas travel, or attending face-to-face classes. Mentors and/or educators set course-competency guidelines, track progress, and conduct final assessments. Assessments are based on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK). DOK, created by Norman Webb from the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, is the degree of depth or complexity of knowledge standards and assessments require; this criterion is met if the assessment is as demanding cognitively as the expectations standards are set for students. DOK refers to the complexity of thinking skills that a task requires.
DOK is about…
- what FOLLOWS the verb. What comes after the verb is more important than the verb itself.
- the complexity of mental processing that must occur to complete a task.
DOK is NOT about…
- verbs. The verbs are a valuable guide, but they can sometimes be used at more than one level.
- the difficulty of what they are learning. All levels of DOK have a place in a rigorous curriculum.
Completely aligned standards and assessments require an assessment system designed to measure in some way the full range of cognitive complexity within each specified content standard. Norman Webb identified four levels for assessing the DOK of content standards and assessment items.
- Level 1: Recall
- Level 2: Skill or Concept
- Level 3: Strategic Thinking
- Level 4: Extended Thinking
DOK implies the interaction of how deeply a student needs to understand the content with different ways of responding and interacting with the content.
DOK levels are not related to the score points. DOK levels are a ceiling, not a target. Why is this distinction between “ceiling” and “target” important?
If assessed only at the “target,” all learners with a Level 3 as their highest demand would only be assessed at Level 3. This would potentially have two negative impacts on the assessment:
- The assessment as a whole could be too difficult; and
- important information about student learning along the achievement continuum would be lost.
- The level of a DOK item is determined by the task (defined by complex thinking and reasoning skills), not grade level or ability of the student.
- Therefore, the DOK of the task does not change with grade or ability of the student.
- Verbs alone do not determine the DOK’s level of an assessment task. DOK’s focus is on how deeply students need to know content for a given response.
- Multiple-choice questions can be written at a DOK 3 or 4 level; however, to design a question in this format is difficult. An Item at DOK level 3 or 4 requires complex reasoning, strategic and extended thinking about the concepts of the content and a real world context, and especially at a level 4 that requires research, investigation and application often over an extended period of time.
Here’s a comparison of Webb’s DOK vs Bloom’s Taxonomy:
Using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge to Measure Rigor