Shifting to Competency-Based Education: A Tale of Three States

There is momentum growing in states across the U.S. to replace the traditional, time-based education model with a system that is better designed to equip students for the demands of the modern workforce.

Our current system moves students through grade levels based primarily on their age, regardless of their depth of understanding. By not ensuring mastery, the current system can push students forward who are not yet ready, leaving them with gaps in critical knowledge or fundamental skills that must be remedied later. Concurrently, the traditional system often prevents students from excelling more quickly, engaging more deeply in their interests or pursuing additional academic challenges.

There are new, more learner-centered approaches that simultaneously address challenges with the current system and illuminate a promising path forward. Competency-based education (CBE and also referred to as mastery or proficiency-based) is a system where students advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace.

Shifting from the current system to one that is fully competency-based is comprehensive and can appear prohibitively complex. Each state has a unique policy landscape and political environment, and the path towards a competency-based system will reflect that.

Tale of Three States

While there is much variation in their stories, there are common themes that emerged and formed the basis of the report’s recommendations. These recommendations include prioritizing CBE communications and messaging, designing and passing pilot legislation and looking ahead to implementation.

CBE pilots provide a reasonable and actionable first step for policymakers and empower and embolden innovative school and district educators and leaders. This report seeks to inspire other states to implement pilots as a first step on the path to competency-based education.

Future research efforts will focus more in-depth on the pilot implementation efforts and a greater review of supportive policies as well as unique state solution examples.

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