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States Considering Policies Supporting Competency-based Education

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Dale Frost, Susan Gentz

Issues: State Policy, Create Enabling Conditions for Competency-Based Education


iNACOL Policy Update: June 19 – June 26, 2015
By Dale Frost ([email protected]) and Susan Gentz ([email protected]).

States considering policies to support competency-based education are on the rise. Policy levers that support competency education and personalized learning include innovation zones, school finance changes, planning grants, new assessment frameworks, and pilot programs. This week, we highlight states’ efforts to pass policies that support new models and systems of assessments, including flexibility for locally-developed, performance-based assessments.

How a state structures its assessments and accountability systems can significantly enhance or impede competency education. Acknowledging this, North Carolina HB 439 expresses legislative intent that the state “transition to a system of testing and assessments…that utilizes competency-based learning assessments to measure student performance and student growth.” The bill passed the House by a vote of 112-2 but has stalled in the Senate. North Carolina can still pass the bill but must move quickly in order to do so because the legislature adjourns on July 1.

Federal rules require states to administer summative tests at the end of each school year that include test items from only students’ current grade levels. These single-point-in-time assessment systems discourage schools from implementing personalized, competency-based pathways.

Fortunately, recent federal actions may create windows of opportunity for states to improve state assessment and accountability systems. New Hampshire has received a waiver from the US Department of Education to pilot competency-based performance assessments and accountability models with a small subset of school districts. The United States Senate, in its ESEA reauthorization, is considering an innovative assessment pilot program that would allow states to implement assessment systems that support competency-based education.

In order to take advantage of federal flexibility, North Carolina would need to create comparable, valid, performance-based assessment systems.

North Carolina HB 439 includes the following defining parameters for a competency-based system, which bear a strong resemblance to the iNACOL CompetencyWorks definition for competency education:

  • Students advance upon mastery;
  • Competencies are broken down into explicit and measurable learning objectives;
  • Assessment is meaningful for students;
  • Students receive differentiated support based on their learning needs; and
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include the application and creation of knowledge.

Lastly, the legislation encourages the State Board of Education to evaluate the feasibility of integrating competency-based assessments into the statewide testing system.

A summary is below; a more detailed version with additional legislative information is available in the members-only iNACOL Member Forums. We track policy priorities and issues related to the field’s needs as outlined annually in the iNACOL State Policy Frameworks. This report provides background information and recommendations for issues on the critical policy shifts needed to transform K-12 education. 

Bills on the Move

  • A bill in New Hampshire, which would have allowed all school districts to offer locally-developed performance assessments in lieu of annual, standardized state tests, was amended by a conference committee to instead allow the state to use college entrance exams to satisfy high school state testing requirements.
  • The Iowa governor signed a bill that establishes a grant program to improve broadband infrastructure.
  • The Ohio Budget bill, which includes a competency-based education pilot program, passed the Senate and will now go to Conference Committee, as the House rejected the Senate amendments.

iNACOL 2015 Blended and Online Learning Symposium

The iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium will be held November 8-11, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. Registration is open. Less than three weeks remain to take advantage of early bird pricing for Symposium registration.

Already a member? Access the more detailed legislative highlights through the Membership Forum.

Not yet a member? Join iNACOL to gain access to this Membership Forum, job postings, announcements, grant opportunities, and the latest information from the field.


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