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Why – and How – Personalized, Competency-Based Learning Works

Cross-state district leaders share how they implement personalized, competency-based learning.

August 3, 2022

By: Sean Andres

When KnowledgeWorks began working with states to develop and implement personalized, competency-based learning district cohorts, wide-scale research on it was not already available.

Those who invested in it knew personalized, competency-based learning was the way forward, based on district-level outcomes, isolated research and anecdotal experience.

For Angie Rye and others in South Carolina, their North Star was their Profile of a Graduate. “That was sort of the driving force and still is the driving force for us,” said Rye, chief academic officer of Lexington County School District Three. “In terms of all of our strategic planning, if we can’t pare it back to that profile as a reason for why we do what we do, then we don’t do it. And the personalized, competency-based learning model just fits right into the profile.”

But education system transformation takes time and intention. “We go slow to move fast,” said Eric Brooks, chief academic officer of Yuma Union High School District in Arizona. “We’re kind of always mindful of the pace because each step that we take and everything we do impacts our system. But most importantly, it impacts our students, our teachers and our parents. And so we’re very cognizant, very thoughtful as we take each action so that all parties can go along the journey in a meaningful and wonderful way.”

Since we started our state partnerships, we’ve been conducting foundational research for somewhere to start. The qualitative and quantitative research process allowed everyone to be reflective of their journey. “I think that really helped me to get a really good assessment of where we’re at,” said Rye. “Sometimes you forget some of the steps along the way.” Now we have the foundations to begin building research that helps reinforce and guide our work with the report From State Commitment to District Implementation: Approaches and Strategies for Personalized, Competency-Based Learning.

We and our partners know that personalized, competency-based learning works. Rye said that teachers “are telling us that they know their kids better than they have ever known them in their whole teaching career. And this is coming from people who’ve been teaching for 25 plus years.” Those relationships are transformative in how we prepare learners for what’s next.

Learn more about the research process, analysis, recommendations and successes in this conversation featuring Brooks, Rye, as well as Research For Action’s Mark Duffy, senior research associate, and Mary Eddins, policy associate.

Lessons Learned on District Implementation of Personalized, Competency-Based Learning

Read the full report and download white papers at Research For Action.


Sean Andres
Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications

Related Resources

Learning communities across the country share what drives educators in peer learning opportunities.

What we learned in developing and improving measures to understand the progress and impact of personalized, competency-based teaching and learning

C-BEN: Why are K-12 and higher ed shifting toward competency-based education, and how can they align?