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Aurora Institute

Systems Change – Five New England States at a Time

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Lillian Pace

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

This post was originally published by Knowledgeworks on April 30, 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 2.06.49 PMA truly remarkable education transformation is underway in five New England states – CT, ME, NH, RI, and VT – inspired by the idea that every child can graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge to succeed in life. This transformation – called proficiency-based learning (aka: competency, mastery, or standards-based) – flips the education system on its head, providing multiple pathways, extra time, and intensive supports for a truly customized learning experience.

I was fortunate to experience this transformation first hand last week, thanks to an impressive tour led by the Great Schools Partnership. This organization is impacting every level of the system: from the grassroots coaching partnerships they have with schools and districts throughout the region to the high-level systems change conversations they lead as the coordinator for the New England Secondary Schools Consortium (NESSC). My big take-away from the tour is this: These leaders have the right vision for learning and an incredibly talented team of experts to help make that vision a reality.

If you want to know more about their vision, I encourage you to spend a little time in the NESSC resource room. Although I always leave school tours with more paper than I have time to read, this time was an exception. I actually spent the entire flight home reading their materials. My favorite resource was the 2011-2012 NESSC Policy Framework – a must read for any policymaker or thought leader interested in the transition to competency or proficiency-based learning. I find it remarkable that five states actually agree on three high-leverage policy areas to tackle together AND are well on their way to making this framework a reality:

  1. Graduation Decisions – The NESSC states want to replace or enhance current graduation requirements to ensure students demonstrate achievement of specific learning standards through experiences both inside and outside of the school building.
  2. Flexible Learning Pathways – The NESSC states propose a state policy that will require all middle and high school programs to offer multiple and flexible learning pathways to help students navigate the new graduation requirements.
  3. System Accountability – The NESSC states are committed to the creation of an accountability system that measures, understands, and improves the current learning system to ensure students attain 21st century skills and knowledge.

Thank you to the Great Schools Partnership and all of the talented policymakers and implementers who graciously made themselves available to the KnowledgeWorks team this past week. Your leadership and commitment to a new vision for education is powerful.

Lillian Pace is the Senior Director of National Policy at Knowledgeworks.