November 27, 2012

Five Policies for Competency Based Education

Everywhere I turn, I hear people praising the results of competency based education. Students master skills and content, they are engaged, and they find learning challenging because they can learn at their own pace. Like many of my peers, I have seen these benefits firsthand at our New Tech schools, and I agree: competency based learning is more than just a compelling strategy – it’s the way forward for our education system.

The current focus on seat time over actual mastery of academic content and skills is not a sufficient predictor of student success.  Rather than rewarding students and teachers for having reached the end of the semester or class, we should instead value whether a student can demonstrate knowledge of a subject or mastery of a skill.  The Federal Government can play an important role in helping states and districts make this transition. Here are five policy steps the Obama Administration and Congress can take to help make this transition a reality.

(1)    Assessments – Require states receiving assessment funding under section 6111 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to develop competency based learning assessments for use by a limited number of breakthrough school districts.

(2)    District Implementation – Provide states with an incentive payment to empower districts to adopt or develop competency based learning approaches; and/or condition future state ESEA waiver requests on the adoption of such a program.

(3)    Personalized Learning Plans – Ensure that districts implementing a competency based learning strategy develop and use personalized learning plans for all students.

(4)    Local Data Systems – Encourage the development of robust and adaptable data systems that enable educators to truly personalize learning. I’m particularly fond of the data backpacks concept developed by Digital Learning Now!, that includes information on each student’s academic history, including official transcript data, teacher comments and input, and student supports that travels with a student from course to course, classroom to classroom, grade to grade and school to school.

(5)    Educator Workforce – Prepare and scale a competency based workforce in the following ways:

  • Expand upcoming Department of Education regulations on Title II of the Higher Education Act to gather information on which schools of education provide training to prospective teachers on competency based learning and personalized learning plans.
  • Require school districts receiving funds under Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to devote a portion of such funds to training teachers in competency based teaching strategies, including development and implementation of personalized learning plans.

As we sit down to talk with federal policymakers about these policies in the coming weeks we will invite them to visit with students learning in a competency based environment. We hope these policymakers accept the invitation to experience this type of learning firsthand. The results are powerful and the conversations that follow transformative.

Stay tuned for additional blogs this week on scaling successful strategies for turning around low performing schools, collective impact, and state capacity.

Lillian Pace

Written by: Lillian Pace

Lillian Pace is the Senior Director of National Policy with KnowledgeWorks.

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