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Aurora Institute

Georgia’s Education Reform Commission Recommends Moving to Competency Education

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): State Policy, Create Pilots and Innovation Zones, Create Enabling Conditions for Competency-Based Education

GA Education Reform CommissionAt the end of the 2015, the Georgia Education Reform Commission released its recommendations for Governor Deal. The Commission established five committees to look at a number of issues, including competency-based education, early childhood education, expanding educational opportunities, teacher recruitment and retention, and funding formulas.

The report on Move on When Ready is worth looking at. Although I’ve included all their recommendations, take a peek at recommendations 1, 2, and 4. The Commission calls for the state to “develop a pilot program of competency-based education prior to statewide implementation, incorporate the model as a priority in Georgia’s existing Innovation Fund, and explore possibilities of integration into various school governance models.” They also call for much more flexibility in Georgia’s Milestone testing so that it is available every nine weeks instead of once a year, moving toward a “just in time assessment” philosophy.

Coming up soon on CompetencyWorks is an in-depth look at the efforts of Georgia’s Henry County Schools to introduce a comprehensive system of personalized learning with competency education as the cornerstone. In the meantime, here are links to posts on Fulton County’s efforts and their back room infrastructure.


As each year passes, more and more jobs in Georgia require credentials beyond a high school diploma. To be college and career ready, a student must obtain the skills necessary to survive and thrive in a 21st century workforce. For many, traditional models of instruction simply are not enough to maximize their potential academic achievement. To educate a generation that faces an increasingly globalized world with new challenges appearing daily, Georgia must be innovative and forward-thinking.

The phrase “Move On When Ready” is more than a dual enrollment opportunity for students; it represents an entirely new way of thinking about education. Why hold a child back when he is ready to tackle the next subject? Why push a child forward when additional time and instruction could help prevent future struggles? Why restrict a teacher when she knows how best to motivate and accelerate her students’ learning? These questions, among others, were discussed by the commission during its deliberations. Opportunities such as blended learning, middle/high school partnerships, competency-based learning, computer-based learning, flipped classrooms, new pathways for graduation, project-based learning and test-out options, in addition to traditional modes of instruction, were considered in terms of not “Can Georgia do this?” but rather, “How Georgia can do this?” The recommendations below, listed in priority order, represent feasible and necessary actions for the state of Georgia in order to fully cultivate a student population ready for life beyond the classroom.

Recommendation 1: Develop and implement multiple formative assessments in literacy and numeracy for students in grades K-3, which would serve the function of Student Learning Objectives in those grades, and extend these assessments to grades 4 and 5 numerical fluency once K-3 is in place.

Under the leadership of Governor Deal, and following the example set by First Lady Deal, Georgia has prioritized efforts aimed at increasing on-grade-level reading by the end of third grade. As an extension of this priority, the commission also has placed a great importance on a child’s numerical literacy by the end of the fifth grade. Both competencies are the foundation upon which all further learning is built. In Georgia, formative assessments, which would serve as Student Learning Objectives in grades K-3, would provide educators with immediate feedback on the progression of their students. In the same manner that these assessments serve to guide teacher practice and support effective instructional planning for literacy, they should also be expanded to support numerical fluency in fourth and fifth grades.

Recommendation 2: Begin the transition to a competency-based education system.

Competency-based learning fosters equity by holding all students to a common set of rigorous expectations while providing flexibility in the way credit can be earned, allowing students to progress through content as they demonstrate mastery, regardless of time, pace, or place.

Such a model is the cornerstone of personalized learning, honoring the reality that, in this age of readily available information, learning happens both inside and outside of the classroom. By prioritizing the most essential academic content and twenty-first century skills needed to be globally competitive for success in college, career and life, competency-based progression increases student ownership, creates multiple pathways to graduation, and ensures more students graduate prepared for jobs that have yet to be created. Georgia has already taken significant steps to encourage innovation and personalized learning.

The commission believes that establishing a corresponding system of competency-based education is the next logical step. The commission recommends that the state should develop a pilot program of competency-based education prior to statewide implementation, incorporate the model as a priority in Georgia’s existing Innovation Fund, and explore possibilities of integration into various school governance models.

Recommendation 3: Develop a pathway that allows students to receive both a high school diploma and a “Job Ready” designation in a high-demand field.

Thousands of Georgia students currently exit K-12 schools without obtaining a high school diploma, a GED or in-demand, “Job Ready” skills. The commission recommends developing a graduation pathway beyond the current two options, which include: 1) completing twenty-three Carnegie units in a traditional course of study, and 2) completing nine specific foundational courses and then matriculating to the Technical College System of Georgia or the University System of Georgia to complete an approved program of study. This recommended pathway, allowing students to complete nine specific foundational courses before pursuing a “Job Ready” certificate in a high demand career field through the Technical College System of Georgia and local high schools, will allow more Georgia students to be prepared for both entry-level high-demand careers and for continuing their education in Georgia’s postsecondary programs.

Recommendation 4: Increase opportunity for advancement or remediation of students through flexible Georgia Milestones testing windows available throughout the calendar school year, preferably every nine weeks.

In Georgia, there is a need for current, accurate and up-to-date assessment information in the classroom. With the appropriate information, a teacher may be empowered to advance or retain students as soon as they demonstrate competency, a student may identify his or her academic strengths and weaknesses more quickly, and a school may replace an ineffective, time-consuming “One Size Fits All” approach to learning. The commission recommends making Georgia Milestones testing available every 9 weeks. It is the commission’s expectation that, with more flexibility for teachers and schools in terms of testing, students may more readily take advantage of opportunities such as blended learning, middle/high school partnerships, digital learning, flipped classrooms, project-based learning and test-out options, in addition to traditional modes of instruction.

Recommendation 5: Increase the number of high school students earning postsecondary credentials and degrees by providing effective professional development for both high school and postsecondary teachers.

Despite the ongoing economic recovery, workers with a high school diploma or less continue to be at a decided disadvantage in the job market. In Georgia, 63 percent of adults between the ages of 25-64 have less than a postsecondary credential. Out of all recent college graduates, 23 percent are unemployed or working in a job that requires less than a college degree. An analysis of educational and labor market data by the Southern Regional Education Board suggests that for many young adults, the 20’s are a “lost decade.”[1] To solve this problem, the commission believes that more high school students must get into technical colleges and onto pathways for postsecondary attainment and career advancement.

In order to achieve this goal, the commission recommends a number of actions to be taken:

  1. Ensure that CTAE career pathways align with postsecondary education and training for highly skilled, highly paid jobs in the state’s high-demand career fields;
  2. Ensure that literacy and math standards for each career pathway reflect the requirements of industry in order to increase employer confidence in the readiness of Georgia students upon graduation;
  3. Support all career pathway teachers with professional development and fast-track induction programs;
  4. Design a framework of strategies to restructure Georgia’s low-performing high schools around rigorous career pathways in order to prepare students for postsecondary credentials and beyond;
  5. Work to double the percentage of career pathway students who earn certificates, credentials and degrees in Georgia’s high-demand fields by focusing on remediation and tutoring during a student’s senior year in high school, if needed, and by promoting the availability of career pathway courses and jobs;
  6. Promote and cultivate secondary, postsecondary and employer partnerships to support these efforts.

[1] Retrieved from the Southern Regional Education Board’s Commission on Career and Technical Education, April 2015