How State Educational Leaders are Advancing Competency Education

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) and CompetencyWorks hosted a webinar titled “How State Educational Leaders are Advancing Competency Education” on May 17, 2013. The webinar focused on how state educational leaders in Iowa and Maine are advancing competency-based education (CBE) practices and policies. The panelists for the webinar included Susan Patrick, president and CEO of iNACOL; Jason Glass, director of the Iowa Department of Education; and Don Siviski, superintendent of instruction for the Maine Department of Education.

The webinar described competency education as a system where students advance upon mastery, with the mastery being determined by assessments. Through competency education, students receive individualized support. In addition, student learning outcomes emphasize competencies that are explicit, measurable, and include the development of important skills.

Susan Patrick presented findings from CompetencyWorks’s recent publication, Necessary for Success: A State Policymakers Guide to Competency Education. Patrick explained that the purpose of the brief is to provide a guide on state policy around competency education and to amplify the work of states on the ground. The brief is meant to be used as a tool for policymakers and includes interviews with state leaders in the field. Finally, Patrick addressed five approaches that states take when approaching the transition to a competency-based system: redesign, areas of non-consumption, innovation zones, credit flexibility and waivers, and gateways. Additional resources are available on the CompetencyWorks’ website and wiki

Jason Glass provided background on CBE in Iowa and highlighted the current work that Iowa is doing in an effort to advance CBE. Some of this work includes: the elimination of “seat time,” the creation of a standing statewide task force, and conducting an evaluation for evidence of the effectiveness of CBE, among others. Glass also discussed challenges Iowa faced as the state moved to advance CBE, such as misinformation around the concept of CBE, and the misuse and misunderstanding of the term by policymakers. To learn more about CBE in Iowa, visit the website of the Iowa Forum on Competency-based Education.

Don Siviski’s presentation focused on the proficiency-based model and shared his experiences in Maine, where legislation will require proficiency-based diplomas by 2018. According to their proficiency-based model, cross-curricular skills and content area standards (drawn from Common Core standards, state standards, Next Generation Science Standards, etc.) are mandatory for a diploma and will be assessed through a demonstration by a body of evidence and verification of proficiency. The state is separating academic reporting from behavior reporting in the high school transcripts and in regards to making competencies meaningful across districts, they are looking at standards that they have adopted (e.g. Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards) and embracing local control to determine when a proficiency is met. Siviski discussed some next steps in Maine regarding PBE as well as challenges. The Maine Department of Education’s Center for Best Practice has a video series highlighting innovative schools in their state.

The presentation slides and the webinar recording are available online.

Kiana Abram is a research assistant for the College and Career Readiness and Success Center at the American Institutes for Research.

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