Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Idaho Agrees: Flexible Pace > Seat Time

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Karla Esparza-Phillips

Issue(s): State Policy, Base Learning on Mastery Not Seat Time

Desk ChairThis post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education on March 27, 2015.

The goal of a high school biology student should be to learn biology, or at least learn all the course has to offer.

That sounds simple enough. But in reality, it is not how the public education system works. Instead, the goal is to have the student sit in a biology class for a specific amount of time (often about 180 days), regardless of how long it actually takes the student to master the material.

An advanced student has to slow down; a struggling student has to keep up.

Inserting an artificial time restriction into learning forces students to adapt to someone else’s learning schedule. A better approach is to allow students to progress at a flexible pace so they can move on when they have mastered the material. Idaho is taking a bold step in this direction. The state recognizes the need for education to be more personalized in order to reach their goals.

Earlier this month, the Idaho legislature unanimously passed HB 110, which directs the Department of Education to begin Idaho’s transition to a mastery-based education system. And last week, Governor Butch Otter signed the bill into law.

This is another stride towards implementing Governor Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education, and it is an important step forward in preparing Idaho students for success in the 21st century.

As demonstrated by bill sponsors Representative Steve Harris and Senator Shawn Keough, Idaho lawmakers clearly understand that the demonstration of true mastery is necessary to increase the number of people entering the workforce with a post-secondary degree or certificate. These leaders understand that diplomas and class credits should be based on student success, rather than seat time.

Moving to a mastery-based system is a significant cultural transition. This legislation wisely recognizes the need to “conduct a statewide awareness campaign to promote understanding and interest in mastery-based education for teachers, administrators, parents, students, business leaders and policymakers.” Buy-in at the beginning from educators is critical, and HB 110 directs the Department to “establish a committee of educators to identify roadblocks and possible solutions in implementing mastery-based education and develop recommendations for the incubator process.”

This bill makes a steadfast commitment to implementation by setting the goal of 20 incubators or pilots by 2017 to better scale success statewide.

Congratulations to Idaho for boldly embracing reform and remaining committed to the success of every Idaho student.

Karla is the State Policy Director of Competency Based Learning for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Previously, she served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent of Policy and Programs at the Arizona Department of Education. Karla also served as the Education Policy Advisor for Governor Brewer and as the Vice-Chair of Arizona’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Her experience includes serving as Director of State Government Relations for Arizona State University (ASU) and as a senior policy advisor for Arizona’s House of Representatives. Karla received her B.A. from Indiana University and an M.P.A from Arizona State University. Contact Karla at Karla (at) excelined (dot) org.