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Aurora Institute

State Policy: Resources for Getting Started

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick

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

Susan Patrick

Looking for a few resources to send state policy makers to get started on competency education? Here are some suggestions.

How Are States Advancing Competency Education?

The report Necessary for Success: A State Policymakers Guide to Competency Education (iNACOL CompetencyWorks) provides an overview and recommendations for state policy.

There is also a short briefing paper on Aligning K-12 State Policy with Competency Education that you can use and adapt for your state.

This article provides an overview on Iowa’s initiative.

New Hampshire’s efforts have been well-documented, including NH’s Story of Transformation and From policy to practice: How competency-based education is evolving in New Hampshire.

Maine also has been documenting their efforts. You can find resources here.

Background: Overview of Competency-Based Education

States considering policies to support competency-based education are on the rise. Policy levers that support competency education and personalized learning include creating innovation zones, supporting school finance changes, planning grants, implementing new assessment frameworks, and starting pilot programs.

Five approaches in state policy to enable competency-based education:

  1. Competency-Based Education Pilot Programs
  2. Innovation Zones
  3. Competency-Based Diplomas
  4. Competency-Based Task Forces
  5. Flexibility for Competency-Based Assessments

1) Competency-Based Education Pilot Programs


Ohio continues to push innovation in helping schools modernize teaching and learning. The budget provides $1 million per year for up to five districts or schools to receive up to $200,000 each for a competency-based education pilot program. The program will begin with planning in the 2015-2016 school year and implementation for three years after that. With this and other efforts already underway in the state, Ohio is working to bring the current one-size-fits-all education system to a student-based approach, with flexible pacing for student instruction and credit decisions based on competency rather than seat time.

The Ohio Budget Bill contains the language on the competency-based education pilot program. Most of the language on the pilot can be found in the following sections: 263.280, 733.30. (A), and 3317.23. (A).

2) Innovation Zones

Kentucky Districts of Innovation program “provides Kentucky public school districts the opportunity to apply to the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) to be exempt from certain administrative regulations and statutory provisions, as well as waiving local board policy, in an effort to improve the learning of students. By ‘re-thinking’ what a school might look like, districts will be able to redesign student learning in an effort to engage and motivate more students and increase the numbers of those who are college- and career-ready.”

Ohio H.B. 153 – Innovation Schools permits a school to apply to its district board to be designated as an innovation school. Creates flexibility through SEA waivers for districts and schools of innovation.

3) Create a Proficiency-Based Diploma

In Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, there is now an option for students to earn a diploma based on demonstrated proficiency. Some examples:


In 2012, the Maine legislature passed L.D. 1422, which enabled proficiency-based high school diplomas. Beginning with the class that graduates in 2015, students must demonstrate proficiency in the content areas of English, math, science, social studies, and health/physical education. By 2018, graduates must master additional core subjects, including career and education development, world languages, and visual and performing arts. Districts may use proficiency- based or time- based credits. Beginning in 2017, all high school diplomas must be proficiency-based (students will earn credits, but those credits will be issued primarily based on proficiency).


Passed into law in 2011, the Move On When Ready program (SB 1451) offers students the opportunity to advance through high school at their own pace based on their mastery of curriculum. A key feature of the model provided for in Arizona law is the Grand Canyon Diploma, a performance-based diploma available to students in schools that are participating in the program on a voluntary basis. In January 2011, the State Board of Education adopted rules for implementation of the Grand Canyon Diploma.


According to the 2007 law H.B. 07-1118, each school district board of education shall retain the authority to develop its own unique high school graduation requirements, so long as those local high school graduation requirements meet or exceed any minimum standards or basic core competencies or skills identified in the comprehensive set of guidelines for high school graduation developed by the state board.

4) Establish a Task Force on Competency Education

The State Superintendent could be asked to establish a task force on competency education. In addition to advising on redefining credit hours to competencies and creating a proficiency-based diploma (discussed above), the task force could provide recommendations on addressing how competencies are related to the voluntary state curriculum.

Iowa did excellent work on their Competency-Based Education Task Force.

5) Flexibility for Competency-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.”

Other Resources

The following are other resources that you may find helpful. CompetencyWorks will also provide updates on state efforts as well as provide helpful links on the CompetencyWorks Wiki.

Issue Brief: Aligning K-12 State Policies with Competency-Based Education: (iNACOL CompetencyWorks)

Cracking the Code: Synchronizing Policy and Practice for Performance-Based Learning: (iNACOL CompetencyWorks)

Strengthening High School Teaching and Learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System:

iNACOL State Policy Frameworks: