Skip to content
Aurora Institute

HELP Committee Report on ESEA Includes Competency Education

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Federal Policy, Leverage Career and Technical Education

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 9.11.33 AMAlthough I thought the government was shut down, some things just kept rolling. On Friday, October 11th, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions filed its report to accompany the ESEA reauthorization bill  that passed out of committee on June 12. Maria Worthen, iNACOL’s Vice President for Federal and State Policy, reminded us in an email: “Report language can carry a little or a lot of weight, depending on how much of it ends up in a conference report and how much ED chooses to follow congressional intent when implementing.”

Competency education was inserted in two places in the report.  To help you find your way through its 1,054 pages of the report, I’ve excerpted the two sections below.  If you want to take a look yourself, you can find the working definition of competency education nserted into Title 1, Part B: “Pathways to College” as a method to improve secondary schools (page 33).  In Title IV: “Supporting Successful, Well-Rounded Students”, among a list of special programs, the emergence of competency education is recognized with a pilot for competency-based assessment and accountability (page 51)

Subpart 1: Secondary School Reform

…The Pathways to College Program supports the implementation of innovative and effective secondary school reforms both LEA-wide and in high schools with graduation rates below 75 percent that do not receive SIG funds. The bill requires grant applicants to implement reform strategies in the feeder middle schools serving these high schools because the committee recognizes that many of the issues facing at-risk youth begin in middle school.

The committee intends the definition of ‘‘Competency-based learning model’’ be aligned with the following principles of competency-based education: (1) Students advance upon mastery; (2) Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students; (3) Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students; (4) Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs; and (5) Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important analytical skills. In addition, grantees shall include a plan to ensure that the practices implemented meet these principles of competency-based learning.

Competency-based Assessment and Accountability Demonstration (p 51)

With respect to section 4111, the committee recognizes the emergence of competency education in many parts of the country. According to a 2012 report by the National Governor’s Association, 36 States now permit districts to award credits based on student mastery instead of seat time. Given this important shift, the committee intends for this pilot to a small number of States the flexibility to develop accountability and assessment policies that align with this approach to academic achievement.

The committee recognizes that States and LEAs that are experimenting with or transitioning to competency-based accountability systems will require assessment systems that may have different characteristics than current systems in order to ensure the continuous improvement in academic achievement for all students. Competency-based assessments measure student learning outcomes that emphasize the application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication. They also provide multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning that provide teachers with the information they need to ensure students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. Formative and interim assessments ensure students make sufficient progress throughout the year while summative assessments enable students to demonstrate that they are ready to advance to the next academic level.

With respect to the activities described in (c)(2), the committee intends that States selected for the pilot be permitted to use funds reserved in title I, part A for the development of the competency-based assessment systems described in subsection (C)(2)(A) of this section. States may use these resources to support the development and implementation of their system, including activities identified in (a)(2)(B) of section 1141, such as the development of the competencies and assessments aligned to State college- and career-ready standards and post-secondary admissions requirements, professional development activities aligned with competencies and assessments, and the dissemination of information in real-time to stakeholders about student progress and performance to ensure all students remain on track or get back on track to graduation. In developing a process for review of the State assurances in (c)(1)(A) and the State’s plan under (c)(2)(E) of this section, the committee intends for the Secretary to take into account the availability of assessments that meet the requirement to meet the requirements of section 1111(a)(2)(B), in particular requirements around comparability. If assessments that meet these requirements are not widely available and easily adopted by the States as part of the initial implementation of this pilot authority, the committee intends for States, while working toward the adoption of these assessments, to use interim assessments that are the most rigorous in striving to meet these requirements, are effective in driving instructional practice, and provide reliable evidence of student learning across testing contexts and scorers. The committee also intends for the State assessment system to incorporate the following elements: (1) Scoring rubrics that are task-specific; (2) Piloted through task-item analysis; (3) Student learning targets that represent mastery of State-approved competencies; and (4) Indicators that measure the full range of academic content and student achievement standards, including mastery of content knowledge and the ability to think critically, solve problems, and communicate effectively.

The committee also intends for States to have the flexibility to dedicate funds from the amount reserved in title II, part A, section 2111 to prepare the State’s education workforce to implement a competency-based accountability and assessment system. The committee recognizes that competency education emphasizes elements of teaching and leading that are different from traditional methods. As such, the committee intends that States include a plan for high-quality professional development that emphasizes collaboration and builds educator capacity to do the following: (1) Provide timely, differentiated support to students based on individual learning needs, moving each student along an individual learning trajectory at a sufficient pace to achieve college- and career-readiness in time for graduation; (2) Align instruction to the explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives; (3) Score formative and summative assessments and participate in their development; (4) Use formative assessments to regularly assess student progress to mastery; (5) Use data on individual student learning in a timely, ongoing manner to inform instruction and support student progress to mastery; and (6) Use technology, including blended or online learning, to support student progress to mastery along individual learning trajectories.

The committee believes this commitment to equity is critically important and intends for States participating in this demonstration to ensure local education agencies develop robust intervention  systems that provide all students with the extra time and instructional supports they need to master the standards and competencies necessary for success. States should help local education agencies develop flexible scheduling and identify effective early intervention strategies to ensure that any student that falls behind his or her peers makes sufficient progress to remain on track to graduation including over age and under accredited youth.

Please note: this post was revised at 7 pm est on 10/15/13