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Aurora Institute

Florida and Utah Look to Support Districts through Competency-Based Education Pilots

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Gentz

Issue(s): State Policy, Create Pilots and Innovation Zones

Recently, iNACOL published a piece on competency-based education pilots and how they can help support personalized, competency-based environments for students and teachers. Two states, Florida and Utah, considered pilot bills this session. Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott, signed the bill into law on March 25, 2016, and Utah’s Governor, Gary Herbert, signed the bill into law on March 28, 2016.

States create competency-based education pilots to help launch small-scale, short-term programs that localities use to determine how a larger program might work in practice and go to scale. While innovations in schools are taking hold across states, state policymakers are seeking to help support and foster educators. Pilots support collaboration to help bring together practitioners and educators to share lessons learned, while addressing the changes needed in instructional methods. Pilot programs are one way to connect and support innovators to plan, implement and ultimately scale high-quality competency-based education practices and systems.

Pilot programs provide an entry point for school leaders and educators to get started–combined with the needed flexibility and funding–to design new personalized models to ensure every student is successful through competency-based pathways.


bigstock-Map-Of-Utah-118691198---webUtah’s bill, SB 143, creates the Competency-Based Education Grants Program consisting of grants to improve educational outcomes in public schools. Utah plans to do this by advancing student mastery of concepts and skills through the following core principles, established in the five-part definition of competency-based education by iNACOL and CompetencyWorks:

  • Student advancement upon demonstrated mastery of a concept or skill;
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, and transferable learning objectives that empower a student;
  • Assessment is meaningful and provides a positive learning experience for a student;
  • Timely, differentiated support based on a student’s individual learning needs; and
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

The grant program incentivizes a Local Education Agency (LEA) to establish competency-based education within the LEA through the use of:

  • Personalized learning;
  • Blended learning;
  • Extended learning;
  • Educator professional learning in competency-based education; or
  • Any other method that emphasizes the core principles.

SB 143 provides language for both planning and implementation grants. Both appropriation amounts are subject to the legislature. Applications for participation in the pilot should include evidence that the LEA is intending to plan for school-wide implementation of competency-based education or that the LEA intends to scale (implement initially with a population smaller than school-wide, phasing the plan in school-wide or districtwide over a specified period of time).

This bill also provides that an institution of higher education shall recognize and accept on equal footing as a traditional high school diploma, a high school diploma awarded to a student who successfully completes an educational program that uses, in whole or in part, competency-based education.

Screen-Shot-2016-03-25-at-4.19.57-PM---webFlorida’s bill, SB1714, establishes a competency-based innovation pilot program, which states that:

“Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, a competency-based innovation pilot program is established within the Department of Education. The bill states that the term ‘competency-based education’ means a system in which a student may advance to higher levels of learning after demonstrating a mastery of concepts and skills instead of after a specified timeframe.”

This pilot is limited to Lake and Pinellas counties and the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School and no additional funds are appropriated.

iNACOL Recommendations for Competency-Based Education Pilot Programs:

  • Create pilot programs to catalyze personalized, competency-based learning.
  • Fund planning and launch phases.
  • Convene practitioners and educators to share best practices through communities of practice.
  • Build educator capacity for personalized learning, developing common performance assessments and calibrating and assessing student work and evidence in performance tasks with regard to proficiency and deeper learning.
  • Support systems change in order to transform to student-centered, competency-based learning.
  • Foster a process of continuous improvement, sharing and collaboration (rather than top-down compliance) in monitoring pilots.

Interested in learning more or creating a pilot program in your state? Contact the iNACOL Center for Policy Advocacy and see our other resources and blogs: