Students at Discovery Ranch follow the Discovery Academy Model of Competency-based Education.


Seat-time Based Versus Competency-Based Education

When teens have problems, the problems can affect their school performance. Many teens struggle or get lost in traditional, seat-time based classrooms. That is why Discovery Ranch for Boys (DRB) handles school differently. DRB focuses on what the students learn, not just how long they spend in their seats in the classroom.  

Seat-Time Based Classrooms

The biggest difference between the way school is organized at Discovery Ranch for Boys (DRB), and the traditional setting is that DRB focuses on students’ competencies rather than seat time. In seat-time based classes, students have to spend a certain amount of time in a classroom to receive credit for a course. The focus is on time, not mastery of the content that students are studying. Whether a student is learning, bored, or struggling to understand; time, not student mastery, is the main focus of this model.


In a seat-time based classroom, the teacher teaches a lesson, then gives a test on the content of the lesson, and the class moves on. The structure of this model requires that the class moves on whether or not all the students have passed the test and understand the material. When the teacher moves on, some students are left behind. Competency-based classrooms use a different, more individualized model.


Competency-Based Classrooms

In a competency-based classroom, the accountability for knowing a skill is higher than a seat-time based classroom. For example, at DRB, the curriculum is not broken up into quarters or semesters; it is broken up into concepts. Teachers direct the students on what concepts they need to complete. They help the students learn the concepts. Then they keep the students moving at an appropriate pace to meet the student’s goals.


In a competency-based model, students have to show that they have mastered a skill before moving on to the next one. The pacing is determined by each individual students’ needs, as evaluated by the academic team. The academic team includes classroom teachers, the school counselor, the special education coordinator, the curriculum room manager, the tutor team and the academic director.


“Your son could be the only kid in pre-algebra in the class. No one is going to move ahead without him. He is the only one that can move himself forward… The teacher does not move on without him because there is no time restriction driving them to do so.”

A Success Story

In January of last year, one 17-year-old student decided that he wanted to graduate high school by his 18th birthday in December. At that time, he was in the middle of his 10th-grade year. Therefore, his goal was to complete two and a half academic years in a very short amount of time.


The teaching staff supported this ambitious goal. He received additional tutoring and one-on-one instruction with his teachers.


The young man worked hard, but around September, he began to struggle. He had a problem learning chemistry. The teaching staff set up a reward system. For every two concepts that he completed, Allison, the academic director, delivered a milkshake or other reward to him personally.


“He made a lot of gains academically, but academics do not stand alone. He made the same progress therapeutically that he did academically,” said Allison. “Since he put so much time and effort into that and advanced not just academically but therapeutically as well, he actually shortened his stay.”


Not only did the young man achieve his goal, but he also progressed so much that he graduated from DRB with his high school diploma before his birthday.


Many young men who struggled in seat-time based classrooms succeed at DRB. The competency-based model has helped many troubled teens to recapture lost credits or get ahead. If your son has struggled in traditional seat-time based classrooms, a competency-based approach like the one used at DRB might be right for him.