Personalized, student-centered approaches like competency-based education are on the rise in schools across Indiana, a trend that should continue.

Testimony to the Indiana House Education Committee: Recommendations for state policies that support successful implementations of competency-based education

Last week I testified before the Indiana House Education Committee. I was asked by Chairman Behning to lead off the proceedings to give an overview of what competency education is, how other states are implementing the approach, and why HB 1386 is a solid step forward for the state. I want to applaud Chairman Behning and Vice Chairman Cook for their commitment to innovation, foresight, and leadership.

It goes almost without saying that KnowledgeWorks believes that competency-based education provides a significant opportunity for our nation’s children. Indiana’s ability to compete as a state—and for communities to attract growth industries and create jobs—demands a fresh approach to public education. The one-size-fits all philosophy of our past and too much of our present doesn’t ensure our future economic and democratic success. Personalized, student-centered approaches to teaching and learning are on the rise in schools across Indiana. I encourage policymakers in Indiana to advance competency-based practices, through HB 1386, as it gives all students the opportunity and intensive supports to master the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and career.

Here are a few of points I highlighted during my testimony:

  1. The pilots, proposed in HB 1386, would breathe greater life into Indiana’s personalized learning and education innovation investments by offering new opportunities to school corporations, schools, and, most importantly, students.
  2. Moving HB 1386 forward would help to establish Indiana as a leader in this space. We are seeing more and more states moving towards competency-based education. This is an important development for each state in isolation but collectively it is an important step forward for our country’s education system. An essential step, I believe.
  3. Definitional language is essential. Simply put strong definitional language leads to quality implementation which leads to sustainability and scalability. I applaud the inclusion of definitional language into statute.

My recommendations for both the state and local school corporations in Indiana as they implement competency-based learning fall under two main categories.

These pilot program should ensure school corporations address the following elements in their respective plans:

  1. Focus on high quality implementation of competency-based approaches that emphasize mastery while closing achievement gaps between subpopulations of students.
  2. Administer a balanced system of summative, interim, performance, and formative assessments that measure student mastery of academic knowledge and social and emotional competencies.
  3. Build capacity of the state and school corporations to continuously improve competency-based approaches, identifying what works and refining strategies to maximize success.
  4. Implement a personalized and adaptive system of learning and supports to close achievement gaps and ensure all students remain on pace to graduation.

Furthermore, to ensure that the investment is both systemic and sustainable, I recommended the following:

  1. The state should network the schools and school corporations together into a professional learning community. This will allow for the implementers to gain the supports that they need, provide opportunities for collaborative learning and sharing, and a focus on refining the program as its being implemented. These learnings are critically important.
  2. Continuous improvement is a critical component at the school corporation and the state levels. There should be a commitment to implementing a continuous improvement process in order to prevent repeat failures and capitalize on accomplishments. The design of this system should allow for the ability to translate continuous data feedback into results for students by ensuring students are receiving the instruction and supports they need, when they need them.
  3. There needs to be a mechanism to obtain additional flexibility as they are identified. Oftentimes, it is difficult to identify the need for policy flexibility prior to program implementation. The state should provide a mechanism for districts to obtain additional flexibility as needed.
  4. For a truly systemic and sustainable implementation and scaling of competency-based learning there needs to be close alignment to the state’s plan around the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA). This could mean that previously held assumptions around accountability or assessment, including the Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority, might be challenged and funding (think Title I, II, and IV) might need to be used differently and with more local flexibility.
  5. Which leads me that as we are empowering students and educators through competency-based education we should also empower our local school corporation leaders. They understand their students, educators, and communities the best. They should be key leaders for the whole state.

This is a critical moment for the state of Indiana. The pilots, in House Bill 1386, help to build a system that can transform the way we educate our students. A competency-based pilot is the next step in this transformation – one that will help districts identify high-quality strategies while empowering policymakers to build a policy framework that will work in Indiana to maximize student success.

Matt Williams

Written by: Matt Williams

Matt Williams is Vice President of National Advocacy and Partnerships for KnowledgeWorks Foundation. In this role, he is responsible for directing both federal and state relations on behalf of the Foundation. Matt assists the various divisions, subsidiaries, and major investments of KnowledgeWorks in building and maintaining relationships to advance their initiatives and also assists in advancing policy priorities for the Foundation.

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