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Competency Education Gains a Seat at the Congressional Negotiating Table

Topics: Education Policy

KnowledgeWorks and The International Association for K-12 Online Learning have partnered to release recommendations for ESEA reauthorization.To all of the competency education visionaries working in state governments, districts, and classrooms around the country – this week marked an important victory for you. After years of running up against federal time-based policy barriers, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander (R–TN), released a discussion draft for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that put your work front and center. While the proposal raises many important questions, one thing is certain – competency education finally has a place at the negotiating table of Congress.

Senator Alexander’s discussion draft proposes two policy changes that would advance the K-12 competency education movement. He is accepting comments on his discussion draft until February 2, 2015 at fixingNCLB@help.senate.gov.

  • The draft proposes two assessment options. The first would maintain current law by requiring statewide testing annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. The second would establish a state-defined option where states could develop an assessment system that may include any combination of annual statewide summative assessments, grade span assessments, and competency-based performance assessments.
  • The draft proposes to let states use federal funding reserved for the design and implementation of state assessment instruments to build competency-based assessments.

Competency education advocates who have spent years building two systems should find these proposals encouraging. This preliminary proposal would go a long way to eliminating the barriers that make competency-based models unworkable under current law.

While we can celebrate this invitation to the national conversation, the political process is long, complicated, and at times, messy. This proposal will likely ignite a firestorm of comments that will impact the national discourse for ESEA reauthorization. Competency advocates must engage, educate, and most of all listen. We have a great deal to learn from the stakeholders in this debate. Let’s hope this first step marks the beginning of a healthy dialogue about how to build next generation education systems that uphold the legacy of rigorous accountability while better aligning to the demands of postsecondary and the workforce.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to review the joint ESEA recommendations that KnowledgeWorks and the International Association for K12 Online Learning (iNACOL) released today.