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Aurora Institute

The Wyoming Future of Learning Pilot: Student-Centered and Competency-Based

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Amy Starzynski

Issue(s): State Policy, Create Pilots and Innovation Zones, Issues in Practice, How to Get Started, Learn Lessons from the Field

In early May, leaders from Wyoming’s Weston County School District 7 started with a slide titled “Unpacking Creativity” during a presentation to a room full of K-12 teachers, leaders from all levels of the education system, community members, and others. In the half hour or so that followed, educators from the district led an interactive session on Upton High School’s journey to intentionally integrate creativity in learning experiences, using student work samples to glean students’ strengths, as well as needs for further learning to think creatively. Describing their work to incorporate creativity into classrooms as “New Age” vs “Old School,” the school’s team has jumped headlong into the challenging and rewarding work of finding ways to assess creativity and creative thinking.Wyoming profile of a graduate graphic

One of the Seven Key Competencies of the Wyoming Profile of a Graduate is to think critically and creatively to solve complex problems. Weston County SD is one of nine school districts that make up the 2023-2024 pilot cohort of Wyoming’s Future of Learning Collaborative, all of which came together for a “Celebration of Learning” to share insights into their work under a pilot program designed to support schools in developing and implementing instructional practices and assessments that are more responsive to learners and aligned with the Profile of a Graduate. 

Taking a RIDE

This event came almost three years to the day after Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon called for bold, locally-driven action from educators, administrators, students, and community members, and established the Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE) initiative. After undertaking a statewide survey and engaging in listening sessions in more than a dozen communities, the RIDE Advisory Group’s report , in a report with recommendations submitted to the governor, noted:

Wyoming Governor presents with three students standing nearby
Photo courtesy of 2Revolutions

Wyoming’s education future lies in creating a student-centered educational experience that allows students to advance through material based on their mastery, and offering them rigorous pathways to the workforce regardless of whether or not they attend a four-year college. (RIDE Advisory Group Final Recommendations)

The RIDE work dovetailed with the State Board of Education’s development of the Profile. The two efforts, unfolding at around the same time and both involving extensive stakeholder engagement, spurred collaboration, exploration of a shared vision, recognition of the need for local flexibility and stronger relationships between schools and communities.

Celebrating Progress

Weston County’s presentation was one of many during the daylong Celebration of Learning. In opening the Celebration, Adam Rubin–founder and partner of 2Revolutions, a firm engaged as the lead technical assistance provider to the Future of Learning community of practice–lauded districts for working to “engage students where they want to be engaged” and students and teachers for demanding more and better of their education system leaders and policymakers. 

Participating schools, and their partners, have formed a learning community and are  using the pilot to establish the Profile of a Graduate at the center of their visions for student-centered learning. For example:

  • In Lincoln County School District #1 School teachers are building rubrics aligned to the Profile skills and will embed the skills within performance assessments.
  • In Park County School District #16, educators found their local priorities for what students need to know and be able to do within the Profile and used that as a springboard to design deeper learning experiences that embed critical thinking and problem solving, among other competencies.
  • In Sweetwater County School District #2, implementing teachers are exploring ways to award students credit for work-based learning experiences, using the Profile to identify common learning outcomes which will be incorporated into rubrics used for student-driven assessment.
  • In Teton County School District, they tasked student school board members with personalizing the Portrait of a Graduate – making it student friendly and using feedback from students to guide and refine their work. Meanwhile, the district’s career and technical education department focused on building student-centered digital portfolios for personalized assessment and laying the foundations for students to earn credits in several subjects at the same time through demonstration of learning aligned to state standards.

    Teton team presenting
    Photo courtesy of 2Revolutions

Next Steps

The RIDE pilot, as the community is now known, is focused on designing instruction and assessment practices that adapt to each student’s unique abilities and interests within four key domains: 

  • Competency-Based Learning
  • Flexible Pathways
  • Personalized Learning
  • Student Choice in Learning
Wyoming student presenting at a podium
Photo courtesy of 2Revolutions

While each of the pilot districts is taking its own path to expand the reach of student-centered and competency-based learning practices within schools, the potential for statewide impact is beginning to emerge. Seven new pilot districts (the 2024-2025 cohort) are already deeply engaged in planning the ways in which they will make education more student-centered. With these two cohorts now established, 43% of the state’s K-12 students are enrolled in pilot districts, noted Rubin. 

Governor Gordon, with close partners in the State Superintendent of Education Megan Degenfelder, State Board of Education, Wyoming Community College Commission, Wyoming Association of School Administrators, the University of Wyoming, and others, appear to have tapped into widespread thirst for innovation within the state’s education system. Stay tuned, this could be quite a RIDE!

Photo of Amy Starzynski Amy Starzynski is Founder and Partner at Foresight Law + Policy. Amy has spent more than 20 years building a deep understanding of state and local education agencies, and the ways in which federal law and policy can be leveraged to improve education systems and student outcomes.  She advises state and district leaders, national associations, not-for-profit and community-based organizations, accreditors, and others about policy issues. She lives in Wyoming.  Amy and the Foresight team supported the Governor’s RIDE advisory group through its listening sessions and development of a final report with recommendations.