Transforming for Tomorrow

A State Policymaker’s Guide for Supporting Student-Centered Education Systems

September 12, 2022

For years, it’s been clear that our existing K-12 education system is not working for far too many of our nation’s children.

While students are graduating high school at record rates, too many are not prepared for what comes next. Statistics suggest that between 40% and 60% of first-time undergraduate students enroll in remedial college courses to learn content and skills that should have been attained in high school, and employers consistently give new college graduates low ratings for key skills such as work ethic and communication. Parents and students recognizing this reality are increasingly calling for change.

Different Names, Similar Ideas

Different states, districts and schools use different terms for similar ideas such as personalized, competency-based learning. Some other ways people refer to related approaches to teaching and learning include:

  • Personalized learning
  • Student-centered learning
  • Competency-based learning and education
  • Proficiency-based learning
  • Mastery-based learning

A personalized, competency-based approach to learning reimagines our K-12 education systems with the goal of ensuring that each child is empowered with the knowledge and skills they need for the future. This approach to education creates engaging learning experiences customized to each student’s strengths, needs and interests. Regardless of how long learning takes or where it occurs, once students have demonstrated their competency of concepts and skills, they are allowed to advance academically. This approach also ensures that schools implement the necessary supports that enable students to take ownership of their learning.

State leaders in various positions play an important role in supporting this type of education at the school and district level. These guiding documents are designed to help a range of state policymakers identify initial steps they can take to support schools and districts wanting to implement a personalized, competency-based approach to learning:

Creating a student-centered vision
States should consider the skills and qualities students need to have upon graduation and an accompanying roadmap with expectations for how students can demonstrate mastery of these skills

Incentivizing district innovation
States should consider how to support forward-thinking districts as well as sharing lessons with other interested communities and state leaders to inform future policy change and state support

Giving credit for all learning that occurs
States should develop a framework for students to receive credit for high-quality experiences outside the classroom, which also requires aligning funding and policy to encourage district creativity and collaboration with others

Rethinking accountability and assessment
States should reexamine policies in these areas where possible to support personalized, competency-based efforts

This guidance is designed to be useful to leaders in both state legislative and executive branches wanting to understand how they can support personalized, competency-based education systems. Where possible this report identifies potential lead actors on different issues while also recognizing that the specific lead will depend on the state context, governance structure and history.


Jon Alfuth
Senior Director of State Policy

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