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Aurora Institute

Watch Out for Wyoming

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

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

Richard Crandall
Richard Crandall

Competency education is likely to take root in Wyoming over the next few years. The new Director at the Wyoming Department of Education, Richard Crandall, is a fan of competency education. Crandall worked as a state senator in Arizona to get legislation passed as part of the Move on When Ready initiative, which introduced the Grand Canyon Diploma.  A recent article in the Caspar Star Tribune reports that “Crandall said that by 2015 and 2016 ‘you will see a few of these national models popping up’ in the state.”

Given Crandall’s experience in Arizona it’s likely we will see Wyoming consider the Excellence for All model upon which the Grand Canyon Diploma is based. Arizona is one of the states participating in the National Center for Education and the Economy’s Excellence for All (EfA) initiatives.  EfA promotes aligned instruction and examination that allows students to advance to higher-level work once they pass the exams.  Schools organize around a lower and upper division, each with a selected instructional system. 

The National Center for Education and the Economy (NCEE) website explains:

The lower-division instructional systems (intended for “on grade” students in their freshman and sophomore years) certified for use in Excellence for All include: 
– The International General Certificate of Secondary Education program, offered by University of Cambridge International Examinations
– The freshman and sophomore courses offered by the QualityCore program of ACT

The upper-division instructional systems (intended for students who have demonstrated their proficiency on their lower division courses) certified for use in Excellence for All include: 
– The Advanced International Certificate Program offered by University of Cambridge International Examinations (their “A-level” program)
– The Advanced Placement International Diploma program offered by the College Board (made up of a specified set of Advanced Placement courses)

– The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme
– The junior and senior year courses offered by the QualityCore program of ACT
BTEC, career and technical qualifications offered by Pearson

Once students pass the exams for the lower division they have several options including: going on to upper division, which prepares them for admissions to a selective college; staying in high school to get a certification in CTE; going on to community college; or going straight into the workforce with their diploma in hand.

The EfA model is very different from Maine or New Hampshire. First, the primary focus on competency is on passing the examination. There is nothing inherent in the approach that assumes the classrooms are going to be personalized or competency-based. Second, the initiative doesn’t have explicit structures in place for students that are not yet proficient.  In fact it assumes that students are on grade level. Third, it moves what we think of as the high school graduation proficiency-levels back to the 10th grade and then expects students to make choices about their post-secondary paths once they pass the exam.

This structure doesn’t mean that the schools in EfA aren’t competency-based. In fact, once a school embraces the idea that they are going to get all kids to a specific performance level, they back into many of the same elements and practices we see in competency-based schools.  You can read about an EfA school in Making Mastery Work. A school in Hartford, CT that serves low-income communities, called Medical Professions and Teacher Preparation Academy, has taken the elements of EfA and mixed it with all the things needed to help students entering school with big gaps in their knowledge base and behind their grade level academically.

With help from Taylor White of the Carnegie Foundation for Teaching, I was able to quickly glance at Wyoming policy as it relates to competency education. It’s not clear how much the policy is positioned to support competency education.    Wyoming’s high school graduation requirements call for a certain number of “years” of study in various disciplines. The years are basically credits, and they’re defined in WDE board policies as:

“credit earned during a school year which is synonymous with a Carnegie Unit of study that reflects the instructional time provided in a class calculated by multiplying the number of minutes a district uses for a class by the number of pupil-teacher contact days in the district calendar as approved by the State Board of Education. This instructional time is usually between 125 and 150 hours in a calendar school year.”

But, in that very same policy regarding high school graduation requirements, the credits can be, “evidenced by passing grades or by the successful performance on competency-based equivalency examinations”. The policy does not define these examinations and gives districts until 2014-2015 to design, define, and get them approved.

So, it’s not clear to me whether Wyoming districts are fully empowered to create competency-based credits in the way Vermont districts can. At the same time, there is a wide-open door for Wyoming districts to develop the infrastructure needed for competency education and put it into place.

What I do know is that Crandall is a strong advocate for competency education. He is aware of what it takes to navigate state politics, and he brings an incredible commitment to ensuring children have what they need to succeed in school.  Watch out for Wyoming—my guess they will be a leading state in competency education in just a few years.