North Dakota and Indiana join a growing list of states that recognize the importance of thoughtful growth in personalized and competency-based learning.
Legislators in both states have filed bills this session to create pilot programs that advance innovative learning. North Dakota’s pilot bill codifies allowances for broad sweeping innovations in personalized learning. Indiana’s proposal focuses directly on competency-based education grants as a way to improve student outcomes.
Though the proposed pilots look somewhat different from one another, both reflect a commitment to growing innovative learning strategically and with focus on sustainability and success. With the passage of ESSA in December 2015, states entered a new era, one where they are urged to think boldly about how to transform their education systems. State legislators have the opportunity to help lead the effort to think boldly alongside departments of education by releasing policy barriers to district and school-level innovation.
As Matt Williams, KnowledgeWorks’ Vice President for Policy and Advocacy, wrote recently, the new Presidential Administration’s anticipated hands-off approach to education means states have an unprecedented opportunity to “strike out to change the system of education in this country.” The pilots in North Dakota and Indiana show commitment by state officials to thoughtfully strike out to drive innovative learning opportunities at the district level, beginning a transformative process to ensure each and every one of their students are set up for success.
We applaud legislators in these states for carrying this legislation.
About Indiana House Bill 1386
The proposed law in Indiana provides an excellent opportunity for Indiana to explore the benefits of competency-based education through a competency education pilot grant program. The bill as filed creates an application process for grants to public schools and/or school corporations (called school districts in other states) to fund the design and implementation of competency education models.
The bill requires that:
- Students in participating schools advance upon mastery of a subject.
- Competencies students adhere to are clear and measurable, empowering students in their learning.
- Assessments of student learning—including exams or other equivalent work such as portfolios or projects—are meaningful and contribute to a positive learning experience for students.
- Students receive individualized, timely support based on their learning needs.
- Learning outcomes focus on knowledge and relevant work-related skills.
- Participating schools and school corporations partner with post-secondary institutions and relevant community industry members.
- Participating schools or school corporations are held to the same accountability requirements required by state and federal law.
HB 1386 was filed by Representative Robert Behning, a Republican Representative from Indianapolis. He has served in the Indiana House of Representatives since 1992, and currently serves as the Chair of the House Committee on Education. Representative Behning has been a long-time advocate of education reform in Indiana, including a move to next generation assessments and a focus on student growth.
About North Dakota Senate Bill 2186
North Dakota’s bill creates an innovative learning pilot program. As filed, this bill allows public and nonpublic schools to apply for a pilot program to allow for more local control and flexibility than they have under current state law. After an initial one-year period, the school may choose to submit a comprehensive implementation plan to the state superintendent. The state superintendent shall assist the school in creating a long-term sustainability plan and may approve the plan to continue the program up to five years.
Methods of innovation allowed in the bill include:
- Awarding credit for learning that takes place outside normal school hours
- Awarding credit for learning that takes place away from school premises
- Allowing flexibility regarding instructional hours, school days, and school years
- Allowing any other appropriate flexibility necessary to implement the pilot program effectively
SB 2186 was filed by Senator Nicole Poolman, a Republican Senator from Bismarck. Senator Poolman is an English teacher at Century High School, and has been involved with the national organization the Education Commission of the States. She has served in the North Dakota Senate since 2013. Senator Poolman has convened a bipartisan group of bill sponsors in both the House and the Senate.
 Competency-based pilot program grants are added to the list of possible uses for the state’s existing innovation network school grant fund.