Posted by: Gregory Linton | 01/16/2019

Mapping Core Competencies to the Curriculum

NOTE: A version of this post appeared as an article in Biblical Higher Education Journal 4 (2009).

In previous posts, I have been describing the process for developing core competencies for the general education curriculum. I have explained how core competencies promote coherence in the general education curriculum. I have explained how to identify core competencies. And I have described a process for defining the levels and criteria of core competencies. Now, I want to explain Step 3 in the process, which is to map the core competencies to the curriculum. This process will ensure “curriculum alignment,” which is defined by Suskie (2018) as “ensuring that your course, program, or general education curriculum is designed to give every student enough opportunity to achieve its key learning goals” (p. 64).

After the faculty has adopted the criteria for each competency, the CAO can develop a Core Competencies Course Grid. Each course in the curriculum should be listed down the left column. The core competencies should be listed at the top of the columns to the right. The CAO can provide each faculty member with this course grid and the document that contains the definitions and criteria for each core competency. Faculty members can indicate on the Course Grid the level at which each core competency is addressed in their courses. For example, if the terms Introduced, Practiced, or Demonstrated are used, then an I, P, or D would be placed in each column to indicate at what level each core competency is addressed in a particular class (see Figure 3.1 in Allen, 2004, p. 43; Figure 9.2 in Diamond, 2008, p. 85). Most courses will address only three or four of the competencies at any level.

When the faculty has identified the levels addressed in all the courses, the CAO can tally the results on a master grid. The faculty should analyze the results to identify the gaps in the curriculum. To accomplish this, the CAO should compile the results in two ways.

First, he or she should focus on the results for courses required of all students to see if all three levels of each competency are adequately addressed. If any of the levels for any competency is neglected, then the faculty will have to determine one of the following courses of action: (1) modify existing courses so that the neglected level is addressed or (2) add a new course to the curriculum that will focus on that level. The former option will usually be easier to implement than the latter. The goal is to ensure a cohesive curriculum that “systematically provides students opportunities to synthesize, practice, and develop increasingly complex ideas, skills, and values” (Allen, 2004, p. 40). Wiggins and McTighe (2005) describe the ideal as a spiral approach that “develops curriculum around recurring ever-deepening inquiries into big ideas and important tasks, helping students come to understand in a way that is both effective and developmentally wise” (p. 297).

The faculty should also check to make sure that different sections of the same course consistently address the same levels. The same course offered in different locations or modalities should also address the levels consistently.

Second, the CAO should cluster the results by professional program to determine how effectively each program is designed to guide students to the highest level of achievement. If the results show any gaps in a program, the faculty will have to take appropriate steps to remedy the situation.

The faculty should also examine the Course Grid to make sure that the core competencies are progressively addressed throughout the curriculum. Lower-level courses should introduce skills; later courses should provide opportunities to practice and develop them; and higher-level courses should enable students to demonstrate their mastery of the core competencies. Suskie (2018) admonishes: “Effective curricula are designed to ensure that students have multiple, iterative opportunities to develop and achieve key learning goals, through a variety of learning activities and settings” (p. 67). The rigor of courses should be consistent with their numbering.

After the course grid is finalized, the CAO should instruct faculty members to include a table in their syllabi that shows the connection of the course with the core competencies. The faculty member can place an I, P, or D in the table to show the level of each competency addressed in that particular class. This procedure will make clear to students the learning goals of the class. The syllabus should explain how each assignment in the course will enable the student to attain mastery of the core competencies addressed in that course. Allen (2004) asserts: “Explicitly tying course objectives to program objectives helps students recognize their involvement in a cohesive curriculum” (p. 44).


Allen, M. (2004). Assessing academic programs in higher education. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Diamond, R. M. (2008). Designing and assessing courses and curricula (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Suskie, L. (2018). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


  1. I am glad to have come across this post because it now opens my eyes to appreciate what is done for students like me to get a real education and understand the work that goes into these learning goals. It is important for both faculty and students to appreciate a document like the syllabus of every class because it is like the ‘bible’ for the course. It is there to guide and create understanding of what we will learn and are expected to learn and can hold both parties accountable. Thanks again!

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