By Emily Brixey, senior manager of policy, advocacy and research and Sam Miller, policy research intern at KnowledgeWorks
State-level legislation is a primary venue for education policy change and an important indicator for nationwide attitudes and interest in personalized, competency-based learning. Tracking introduced and enacted bills that promote innovative approaches in education can show us what education leaders and policymakers are interested in.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all 50 states and the District of Columbia are holding or held legislative sessions in 2023. So far this year, we have tracked over 145 pieces of legislation related to personalized, competency-based learning in 38 states. Seventeen of these bills have passed, with plenty of time for more as some states’ legislative sessions are still underway. In addition to tracking changes specific to personalized, competency-based education, we also follow policies aimed at scaling student-centered education.
There are three issue areas with pending and enacted legislation we find particularly interesting: measuring success, balanced assessments and a culture of innovation, as defined in our State Policy Framework for Personalized Learning. These high-interest bills are exemplary of our mission to advance student-centered learning across the country. We’re keeping our eyes on these and other pending pieces of legislation, and you can, too, with our high interest bills policy tracker that includes these and other bills that warrant attention this legislative session.
So far in 2023, at least nine bills have been introduced in seven states that would establish policies that support measuring school success in ways that are aligned with personalized, competency-based learning.
Policies that measure success support a robust performance measurement system, including accountability and reporting tools. State education agencies and legislatures can use these systems to evaluate the quality of public schools and distribute resources. We explore policies and practices that support a robust performance measurement system in more detail in our report Accelerating Assessment and Accountability Innovation.
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Utah and Michigan considered bills that aim to modify school accountability, changing how school performance is evaluated and communicated to stakeholders. Legislation in both states aimed to remove the use of letter grades in school accountability systems and shift to more nuanced school accountability measurement methods.
Utah H.B. 308, signed into law by the governor in March, removed a section of state law requiring the annual assignment of letter grades to each public school based on its performance. This bill was prompted by concerns that the A-F school grading system was not surfacing authentic strengths and areas for improvement, but rather reflecting challenges schools faced based on demographics. Schools in lower-income areas or with more English learners were more likely to receive lower grades.
This new law builds on the work of an advisory committee assembled by the Utah State Board of Education to explore ways to better align the state’s accountability system to the state’s personalized, competency-based learning framework. This advisory committee, supported by the Center for Assessment and KnowledgeWorks, produced a final report – Next Generation School Accountability in Utah – urging the legislature to replace the A-F grading system with a more detailed dashboard to help parents identify strengths and areas for improvement in schools.
Moving away from simple binary scores and towards a more comprehensive measurement for school performance is a crucial step towards giving stakeholders a richer picture of school quality and student success.
In Michigan, H.B. 4166 would eliminate the requirements that the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) grade schools’ performance on an A-F scale and use those letter grades to compile a list of “lowest-performing schools.” The School Index Score, another existing school performance indicator in Michigan, would become the sole school accountability system in the state. The School Index Score relies on seven differently-weighted criteria components based on Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements. The index moves away from a binary met and not-met status and allows for a more dynamic picture a school performance. According to the fiscal analysis, MDE argued that the A-F system does not meet ESSA requirements and offers a “misleading picture of school performance compared to the index score.” Moving away from simple binary scores and towards a more comprehensive measurement for school performance is a crucial step towards giving stakeholders a richer picture of school quality and student success.
So far in the 2023 legislative session, we’ve found that at least 18 bills have been introduced in eight states that would move states towards achieving balanced assessment systems. Balanced assessment systems are essential components of personalized, competency-based learning because they provide meaningful measurements of student knowledge and skills that can be used to inform personalized approaches to education.
Balanced assessment policies advance a system of formative, benchmark, interim and summative assessments at the state and district level that empower educators and deepen student learning. Learn more about emerging trends in assessment innovation.
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Three states, Colorado, Missouri and Pennsylvania, have introduced legislation that would take steps toward improving student assessment. The bill in Colorado, if passed, would lay the groundwork for one of the first student-centered assessment systems that aims to more meaningfully connect state and local assessment experiences. In Pennsylvania, a student-centered assessment pilot program would implement new testing strategies to enable deeper understanding of student knowledge and skills. And finally, proposed legislation in Missouri changes statutory language to explicitly connect summative assessment profiles to student learning – a critical piece of balanced assessment work.
In Colorado, HB23-1239 declares a “desire to develop local assessment and accountability systems that reflect a more complete picture of each student than is determined by standardized tests, [and to] represent an innovative and less punitive approach to assessment and accountability.” As articulated in the fiscal note, the bill would require that the Colorado Department of Education apply for a waiver for federal assessment requirements and, at the request of a school or district, minimize standardized testing. The bill would also instruct the department to cultivate and scale local innovations in testing and accountability systems toward a competency and mastery-based education model, with associated statewide testing and accountability systems. This bill, if enacted, would create a re-imagined approach to assessments that other states could use to guide their own journeys toward student-centered balanced assessments.
You can call your policymaker to support bills. We’ve provided some guidance to make it as easy as possible.
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Missouri H.B. 49 would change statutory language and explicitly require student-centered assessment approaches. According to the bill summary, H.B. 49 would require that the State Board of Education make the system student-centered and use assessments across the school year that support teaching, learning and program improvement, so that a summative profile is developed of the student’s learning. The bill also provides an updated list of what assessments should be comprised of, including “criterion-referenced and aligned to state standards; access to national norms, measuring growth during and across years; and providing multiple opportunities for students to show proficiency.”
Pennsylvania H.B. 887 would establish a student-centered assessment pilot program. Utilizing adaptive testing, school districts would test student knowledge at the beginning of the school year, before the end of the calendar year to gauge student growth, and at the end of the school year to determine a student’s mastery of the subjects. The results of the adaptive tests are to be shared with each teacher who administered the adaptive tests. The combination of multi-stage testing with adaptive test technology and quick turnaround results in the hands of teachers would help deepen understanding of student mastery and provide teachers with data to help them more efficiently serve the needs of their students and improve learning.
Culture of innovation
This session we have seen movement toward policies that support flexibilities for local districts or schools to implement competency-based education models. Competency-based programs empower students to demonstrate learning in new ways with appropriate supports and additional time when needed to ensure mastery. Overall, we have seen 20 bills across 15 states that support culture of innovation policies in 2023.
Culture of innovation policies empower educators, researchers, communities and families to design, refine, evaluate and advance new learning models that better support student needs. Learn more about these and other policies that support student-centered learning in our state policy framework.
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South Carolina and Virginia introduced bills that would advance schools’ ability to implement personalized, competency-based pilot programs. South Carolina’s proposed bill would allow for waivers from laws and regulations that hinder the implementation of competency-based education for districts and schools that wish to do so. In Virginia, the bill would establish a program that directs the State Department of Education to assist in the implementation of competency-based mathematics programs in middle schools.
South Carolina H.B. 3295 would allow districts seeking to implement competency-based education to apply for a waiver for all schools in their district from regulations that hider those efforts. The bill would provide a statutory definition of competency-based learning and permit students to earn credit via competency assessments that allow them to demonstrate mastery of material, rather than by just completing courses. This bill includes the key personalized, competency-based learning elements from last year’s H.B. 3883, which did not pass as a standalone bill. However, a temporary change was included in the 2022 budget proviso that allowed districts to apply for competency-based program waivers for that fiscal year. Bills of this nature grant schools and districts the flexibility they need to better implement personalized, competency-based learning strategies and better serve their student populations.
In Virginia, H.B. 2495 would have established the “Middle School Mathematics Innovation Zone Program” to assist local school divisions in implementing competency-based mathematics programs in middle schools. The Department of Education would have been directed to give preference for admittance to the program to middle schools that are identified as in need of support, rural schools and schools in economically disadvantaged areas. While this bill was not enacted before the legislative session concluded, the Virginia House of Delegates passed it in February. Innovation zones give flexibilities to schools and districts to implement innovative practices that enable competency-based programs to provide deeper methods of teaching and learning that may be not fit within standard educational models.
Want to keep up with these and other bills that seek to scale and deepen personalized, competency-based learning? Check out our high interest bills policy tracker. This tracker reflects KnowledgeWorks’ best effort to find and categorize high interest bills that support personalized, competency-based learning. We will continue to monitor for new bills and changes to these bills as we are able.
Sam Miller, KnowledgeWorks Policy Research Intern
Sam primarily supports the creation and utilization of the KnowledgeWorks policy tracking system. He is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he is double majoring in political science and Spanish. Sam brings valuable experience from previous internships at Literacy Network, Jubilee USA Network and Ballotpedia. Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, Sam loves trivia and watches Jeopardy! nearly every day.