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Aurora Institute

Streams of Innovation — Update on Federal and State Policy

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): State Policy, Redefine Student Success, Create Pilots and Innovation Zones

Screen Shot 2013-06-21 at 8.22.22 AMIt’s getting hard to stay on top of all the advancements and initiatives related to competency education. We used to have pockets of innovation.  I’d say we now have streams of innovation – new school models, new districts starting the transition to competency education, and new policies.  There is definitely a growing worry that policy may be creeping ahead of practice. It’s important to make sure that practice is advanced enough to be able to inform policy – otherwise we risk new systems that reinforce practice where it was yesterday rather than what it is going to look like in three years.

Here is a quick update on some of advancements in policy at the federal and state level:


The Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013 (S.1094) introduced by Senator Harkin and passed by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) includes a section for a Competency-Based Assessment and Accountability Demonstration (See Section 4909).  The bill would authorize the Secretary of Education to provide eligible entities with the authority to incorporate competency-based accountability into the State accountability system for a period of 3 years.

Catalyzing Competency Education:  You probably know that these major federal reform initiatives open the door to competency-based or mastery-based learning models.  KnowledgeWorks has made it easy to get on top of what the winners of RTT and I3 are doing related to competency education in their second policy brief Federal Innovation Competitions: A Catalyst for Competency Education.  If you work in federal or state policy, I consider it a must read.


Colorado Sets Proficiency-based Graduation Requirements Colorado has joined the ranks of the most advanced states on competency education. We’ve seen a number of schools in Colorado take root or move to competency education (Diploma Plus, Expeditionary Learning, International Studies School Network, and of course Adams 50).  Now the policy is clearly stating that students must be proficient by the time they graduate. It’s an interesting policy as it positions itself for new capacities in assessment. It also outlines levels of proficiency on a number of tests and credentials available or required for students, leaving one with the question: If you demonstrate proficiency on one set of tests, might that mean you don’t have to take the others?

Oregon Implementing New Grading Policy: On July 1, Oregon districts have to start implementing HB 2220. According to the Business Education Compact, “it requires districts:

•    To determine a student’s progress toward achieving the academic content standards (align instruction to standards).
•    To show, at least annually, to student and parents, whether the student’s progress to standards meets or exceeds grade-level standards expectations.
•    To assure that a student’s academic grades reflect his/her academic proficiency.

All districts will report grades in content areas that have academic content standards by separating out academic achievement from non-academic factors.”

This is going to be an interesting process as “proficiency” has taken hold in many classrooms in Oregon with transparency in standards and a variety of forms of standards-based grading (you hear a lot of 80/20 or 70/30 to indicate the degree that activities or behaviors are included in grades). However, there is less conversation on how to design fully proficiency-based districts and schools that allow greater personalization so that students can accelerate learning.


If there are other policy advancements you know about, please add information and resources below. It’s increasingly important that we use the comment section to build up broader knowledge – we can’t stay on top of everything in 50 states as we move from trickling creeks to storming streams of innovation.  Isn’t it grand!!  Thanks everyone!