Academics
The Punahou Journey

Competency-Based Learning

Competency-Based Learning (CBL) is an academic framework that emphasizes the value of student-centered personalization, with classroom and assessment practices that work to support the unique learning path of every individual student. These courses employ a variety of strategies including, but not limited to, project-based learning, problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning, centered on students’ questions and curiosity. These courses emphasize what students can do with their knowledge, stressing the acquisition of skills and abilities that they will need for their futures.
As students study the content in each of these courses, they receive continual feedback towards a set of course competencies (or learning outcomes), derived from the Aims of a Punahou Education. The focus on competencies highlights for students the skills and mindsets required to successfully learn and grow in our traditional disciplines; teaching students how to think and act like scientists, mathematicians, historians, authors, artists, linguists or designers. In a competency-based course, the teaching of knowledge and skills are integrated together. As students learn the content of a course, they also learn how to apply it to specific projects, tasks and challenges. This approach helps students acquire the vital abilities and habits of mind that will enable them to succeed in college as well as in their future career paths.

President Mike Latham’s letters to parents about learning at Punahou:

List of 2 items.

    • Competency-Based Learning

      Competency-Based Learning

    • Competency-Based Learning

      Competency-Based Learning

    • Competency-Based Learning

      Competency-Based Learning



Enjoy this video from our PFA gathering on January 17 at the President’s Pavilion. Academy Principal Emily McCarren, Assistant Principal Sally Mingarelli and Academy faculty shared updates on competency-based learning courses and answered questions from parents.

Frequently Asked Questions

List of 11 frequently asked questions.

  • Is Punahou getting rid of grades?

    No – Punahou has no plans to replace its graded transcript with an alternative model. Grades are not going away at our School. Students in all CBL courses will receive quarter and semester grades and regular feedback on their performance.
  • What about Advanced Placement courses and standardized tests?

    Punahou has no plans to drop Advanced Placement courses or to move away from our work to prepare students for standardized testing, including the SAT or ACT.
  • What about the transcript?

    There are no changes planned to our transcript or our system of reporting.
  • How many classes in the Academy are CBL?

    While all of our Academy courses have elements of project-based and inquiry-based learning in them, this school year we piloted a more intentional competency-based design in approximately 6% of Academy classes. These include several elective courses (Global Sustainability by Design, Bias Studies, Ka Hālāwai Hou – Hawaiian Voyaging, Visual Storytelling, Anatomy of Major Systems, Cognitive Neuroscience, and AP Statistics) and three core courses (Biology, Biology Honors, and Chemistry).
  • Why CBL? Why now?

    Over the years, Punahou has sought to adapt its teaching to respond to our growing understanding of the brain and a child’s cognitive development. The world, too, has changed in ways that demand educational innovation. In a future shaped by rapid technological, social, and economic shifts, students will need to pair their knowledge of key concepts and ideas with the vital ability to explore complex problems. Schools that wish to stay at the forefront of education must prepare students for fields of study and career paths that do not yet exist. To do that, they need to ensure that their graduates have the acuity and habits of mind necessary to learn, relearn, and pursue creative opportunities.
  • Is Punahou’s approach to CBL the same as other schools?

    Punahou is a truly unique educational institution, and so is its approach to CBL. Rather than a “one size fits all” approach, we will evaluate and adopt what works within the framework of Punahou and reject what doesn’t work with our culture. For example, Punahou’s distinctive approach to CBL maintains letter grades and the traditional transcript in addition to the robust personalized feedback that students get from CBL. Punahou’s approach may differ from the ones taken at other institutions, just as our students, teachers, and overall educational approach differ.
  • What do colleges think about CBL?

    We know from our longstanding partnerships with colleges and universities that the goals of this pedagogy are widely valued in higher education. In addition to strong transcripts and test scores, colleges value evidence of creativity, original thought, leadership, and innovation – precisely the attributes we seek to encourage. By maintaining our graded transcript and our commitment to prepare students for standardized testing, alongside our commitment to inquiry-based and applied learning, we aim to help our students attain the best and most competitive preparation possible.
  • Is CBL eventually going to take over the entire curriculum?

    While we will continue to develop electives, we do not currently plan to add more core courses using a CBL framework. We will fully study and evaluate our experience with the current core courses before considering any further steps. Any further steps will be fully discussed with our parent community as well.
  • What chance do I have to give feedback?

    All parents of students in CBL courses will receive feedback surveys at the conclusion of the first semester or at the conclusion of the course. In the meantime, we encourage families to contact their child’s CBL teacher, their dean or Principal for anything they might want to share or any questions they might have.
  • Why is Punahou a member of the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) if it is not pursuing a mastery transcript?

    Punahou is a member of many national and international educational boards and committees, and the MTC is just one of them. There are many important discussions happening around the future of education and we believe it is vitally important that Punahou be aware of them and have a seat that the table. This allows us to contribute to important conversations and maintain our knowledge of the educational landscape. As a leader in education and a school committed to thoughtful innovation, Punahou needs to be able to share its experience and learn from the work of other schools.
  • How can I learn more about this?

    Punahou will provide continuing opportunities for parents and students to learn more about our curriculum. At the present we are planning:
    G-Term for Parents, January 7 – 9 at Punahou. Parents had the opportunity to learn about CBL and observe G-Term experiences that highlight these teaching practices. Additional learning opportunities for parents will be announced shortly.
    A PFA-sponsored event on Friday, January 17, 11:15 a.m. – 1 p.m., President’s Pavilion. We will also videotape this event and make it available to parents who are unable to attend live.
    Sessions for parents will be held during the spring semester of 2020, to be held in the early evening hours. Information about times, places, and dates will be announced soon.
    The regular orientation for all eighth-grade parents will include curricular information.
    Our course catalog and registration materials will include descriptions related to CBL, and CBL-based courses will be clearly designated.