Competence and standards

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In the social sciences there is no single use of the concept of competence or key competence, and no broadly accepted definition or theory. Thus a pragmatic conceptual approach seems appropriate. In line with remarks of F.E. Weinert, »a competence is the ability to meet a complex demand successfully or carry out a complex activity or task« (Rychen/Salganik 2002, p. 5). Each competence essentially exists on a continuum from low through average to high. A competence has different components: it is the demand, task, or activity which defines the internal structure of a competence, including the interrelated attitudes, values, knowledge and skills that make – in combination – acting effectively possible. Competencies can not be reduced to their cognitive components. A broad field of soft skills is included as well. Competencies can be operationalised by standards. According to D. Ravitch there are three types of standards: (1) performance standards that »define degrees of mastery or levels of attainment. They answer the question: ‘How good is good enough?’ Performance standards describe what kind of performance represents inadequate, acceptable, or outstanding accomplishment« (p. 13), (2) content standards (or curriculum standards) that »describe what teachers are supposed to teach and students are expected to learn. They provide clear, specific descriptions of the skills and knowledge that should be taught to students« (p. 12) and (3) opportunity-to-learn standards »define the availability of programs, staff, and other resources that schools, districts, and stats provide so that students are able to meet challenging content and performance standards« (p. 13). In GOETE the terms »competence« and »standards« are needed in WP 3 (»comparison of teacher training«).


Ravitch, Diane. (1995): National Standards in American Education. A Citizen’s Guide. Washington: Brookings.

Rychen, Dominique S./Salganik, Laura H. (2002): DeSeCo Symposium – Discussion paper. URL (12, 2009):

Weinert, Franz E. (2001): Concept of competence: A conceptual clarification, in: Dominique S. Rychen/Laura H. Salganik (eds): Defining and selecting key competencies, pp. 45-65. Göttingen: Hogrefe.

(Thorsten Bohl and Colin Cramer)