WGU, as a competency-based university, defines competency as the ability to perform a job/role to defined, established standards in the real world. In other words, a graduate who possesses the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to be successful on the first day at work is deemed competent. Thus, competent graduates are those who are conversant with the content of the domains of knowledge and skill of their particular degree program and are ready to succeed in the working world. Psychometricians at WGU have translated competency into proactive assessment development processes and procedures to ensure passing scores are consistent with our intended interpretation. With "C” being a minimal level, and thus one not assuring competency, WGU equates competency with a grade level of "B.”
We set passing standards (cut scores) for our competency exams using the Modified Angoff approach. We use the Modified Angoff approach because it is a standardized method for setting passing standards that meets all applicable national testing standards for fairness, is consistent with the type of scoring interpretations we use at WGU, and meets legal defensibility requirements. In this method we organize workshops of subject matter experts (SME) who know the content of an exam and are familiar with first-day-on-the-job practitioners in a given field(s). During the workshop these SME judges determine the difficulty of each test item, i.e., the proportion of competent graduates who would correctly answer each test item. Standards setting judges are taught to visualize a group of competent graduates—analogous to those with a B average. By way of comparison, we contrast this group with a "minimally qualified” person who may (or may not) succeed on their first day at work (a C student) and an experienced or expert worker (an A student). In this way, our competency exam passing standards (cut scores) can be interpreted as the score that would be achieved by competent graduates—those who would likely finish a traditional program with a "B" average.
We set standards for performance task, laboratory, observation, clinical, and portfolio assessments using the "B” grade analogy above. Passing for these assessments is always set such that candidates must score at the level of "3” on a four-point scale, or the equivalent.