Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Seven States With Enabling Policies to Support Innovations in K-12 Education to Offer More Personalized Approaches and Competency-Based Systems

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Alexis Chambers, Maria Worthen

Issue(s): State Policy, Create Meaningful Qualifications, Fund Innovation, Create Enabling Conditions for Competency-Based Education, Support Professional Learning


Which states lead in helping districts and schools create more personalized learning for students? This is a frequent question we are asked by state policymakers. Although there are different state policy entry points for this work, the examples below illustrate some of the state policy strategies that support personalized learning approaches and competency-based education systems, including:

  • Creating pilots, 
  • Allowing innovation zones,
  • Opening Offices of Innovation to support professional learning communities statewide, 
  • Supporting competency-based education systems, and 
  • Redefining student success more broadly through Profile of a Graduate initiatives with communities. 

There is tremendous interest in K-12 education for more personalized learning and competency-based education systems. When designed to ensure equity, these new education models hold promise to prepare all students for success in college, career, and civic life with the skills, knowledge, and competencies they need. 

Here are some leading examples: 

Arkansas established an Office of Innovation for Education housed at the University of Arkansas to build capacity for districts and deepen understanding of new innovative learning models. The Office of Innovation for Education provides research and technical assistance for schools to transform into student-centered learning environments and helps schools participate in Arkansas’ Districts and Schools of Innovation Program. Through the Schools of Innovation Program in Arkansas, schools and districts can receive flexibility from outdated state policies through waivers from regulations. While communities engage in the design work on education innovation, specialists support schools to match personalized learning approaches with each school’s specific needs and contexts. This provides opportunities to build capacity and expand professional learning opportunities for district and school leaders to scale personalized learning environments in K-12 education across the state.

New Hampshire has a comprehensive statewide approach to competency-based education. In New Hampshire, all academic credits are redefined by competencies, not seat-time. New Hampshire created the Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) initiative to allow districts to adopt performance assessments in support of competency-based pathways with locally developed performance tasks for accountability purposes. The goal is to create better systemic alignment with student-centered learning and an innovative approach to the statewide summative assessment. The New Hampshire Learning Initiative (NHLI) is a nonprofit with an educator-led team, created in partnership with the state, to help districts and schools deepen their understanding of personalized, competency-based learning toward the goal of “helping teachers, administrators and school district officials advance education and better prepare students for college, career, and life.”

North Dakota’s Innovative Education Program enables school districts to implement innovative learning environments. The superintendent of public instruction may issue waivers to participating school districts from state laws and regulations so they can implement innovative learning environments. The state is also rolling out programs to support capacity-building, including the Innovation Spotlight Program and the Personalized, Competency-Based Learning Program (NDPCBL). 

Rhode Island supports personalized learning in districts with technical assistance to implement performance-based diplomas for all. The state’s Diploma Policy (200-RICR-20-10-2) requires that by 2021, to graduate, students must meet state and local course requirements and a performance-based diploma assessment requirement. High schools and middle schools are required to provide students with individualized learning plans, multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate proficiency, multiple pathways for students, and personalized learning opportunities built into each school. The Governor’s Office of Innovation provides leadership and leverages public-private partnerships to support leaders and educators in rethinking education.

South Carolina is providing differentiated professional learning for personalized learning aligned to the Profile of a South Carolina Graduate. The South Carolina Department of Education reallocated approximately $1 million to create the South Carolina Office of Personalized Learning to support capacity-building in more than 130 schools exploring or implementing personalized, competency-based learning. A regional district consortium is developing a pilot for next generation accountability to inform policy in the state.

Utah’s SB143 (2016) created a competency-based education pilot program, which provides grant incentives to local education agencies to transform their learning models. In 2017, the state allocated additional funds for Utah educators to attend study tours of competency-based education across the country. In 2018, the state published its Competency-Based Education Framework, which is informed by the earlier exploratory work and provides guidance on the shifts required to implement competency-based education, including those involving culture, quality, and change management. Finally, in 2019, the Utah Talent MAP was launched to provide a model profile of a graduate. Utah is building on the Talent MAP and state standards to design prototype competencies for secondary education, which are expected to launch in spring 2020. Local pilot implementation of these prototypes may begin as soon as 2021. Thus, Utah is taking several steps that aim for a coherent approach to support and enable the implementation of competency-based education systems.

Virginia is using the Profile of a Virginia Graduate as a powerful driver of transformation of assessment and teaching. HB 895 of 2016 required the state to create the Profile of a Virginia Graduate. The bill requires that for the Class of 2022, each graduate take an AP, Honors, or IB course or complete an industry certification. In November 2017, the Virginia State Board of Education approved revised Standards of Accreditation that included graduation requirements for the Class of 2022. These board regulations (8VAC20-131-51) go beyond the requirements of HB 895 and require all graduates to “acquire and demonstrate foundational skills in critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, communication, and citizenship in accordance with the Profile of a Virginia Graduate.” 

In 2019, Virginia launched the Virginia Is for Learners Innovation Network, to “share ideas on how to accelerate innovation and promote deeper learning in the commonwealth’s public schools.” Virginia is also developing a Profile of a Virginia Educator aligned to the Profile of a Virginia Graduate. Local pilots and professional learning networks are designed to build educator capacity. Through the Virginia Student-Led Assessment Networked Improvement Community (funded through private foundation support in 2016), educators in11 school divisions are able to build capacity for collaboration and learning focused on student-led assessment for deeper learning. Finally, Virginia’s High School Innovation Grant program supports the development or implementation of programs that align with graduation requirements and emphasize personalized learning and the use of performance assessments to measure student achievement.

Resources to Learn More:

Maria Worthen is Vice President for Federal and State Policy and Alexis Chambers is Policy Associate at iNACOL.