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Aurora Institute

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Natalie Slocum

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMThe Next State of Learning project, newly launched by the Innovation Lab Network (ILN) at CCSSO, aims to capture the stories of states who are scaling and sharing innovations within their districts. The project will capture the stories of how states in the ILN are scaling and sharing innovation within their districts.

Thought Leadership

  • Why do we continue to teach students grade-level standards based on their age when their skills are actually two, three, or more academic levels lower (or higher)? Chris Sturgis tackles this issue about reframing education and teaching students where they are in their learning (not where they “should” be).
  • Andrew Miller wrote an article providing teaching strategies to avoid “learned helplessness” in students and empowering students to be self-directed learners. These strategies include making learning resources available, asking questions “for” (not “about”) learning, not giving students’ answers and allowing for failure.
  • KnowledgeWorks outlines the essentials of competency-based education, including transparent learning outcomes, mastery rather than seat time, real and relevant assignments, and a community-based strategic design plan.
  • This story on Coyote Springs Elementary in Arizona describes the implications when schools make other important skills and competencies such as the 4 C’s (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) a core part of the design of the school.


  • President Obama signed into law a bill that reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaces No Child Left Behind and holds significant implications for the field of K-12 education. Learn more about what this new federal K-12 education law means from iNACOL.
  • After ESSA passage, Linda Darling-Hammond wrote an article highlighting the real equity challenge that lies ahead: providing access to 21st century learning.

Movement in the States

  • Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission recommended implementing competency education. This approach is already being used at Locust Grove Middle School in Henry County.
  • In Idaho, local school boards are beginning to look at mastery-based education. Local newspapers are playing a key role in helping people understand what it is. Here is an example from Clearwater.
  • Ohio has awarded five Competency-Based Pilot Sites. The awardees are below. You can read the summary of the pilots here.
    • Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools;
    • Cincinnati Public Schools;
    • The Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, including Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, Springfield City Schools, Maple Heights City Schools, Kirtland Local Schools, Perry Local Schools, and Orange Schools;
    • Fairfield County Educational Service Center, including Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools and Pickerington Community School; and
    • Geauga County Educational Service Center, including iSTEM Geauga Early College High School, Bio-Med Science Academy STEM School, Global Impact STEM Academy, and the Dayton Regional STEM School.

Colorado’s District 51

  • District 51 in Mesa County, Colorado is planning to change student graduation requirements by 2021 to align to performance-based learning, and they are seeking community input to inform this process. Rather than tying graduation to test scores and credit hours, students can demonstrate their readiness to graduate through four avenues: minimum scores on state or national exams, completing a capstone, passing college-level courses in high school or earning professional certifications.
  • Grand Mesa Middle School, part of District 51 in Colorado, demonstrates progress halfway through their first year in implementing performance-based learning. These encouraging early results indicate a positive journey toward better learning.


  • AYPF released a white paper and hosted a webinar on increasing college and career readiness through after-school and competency-based learning.
  • A college in England embarked on a research project to determine whether mastery-based learning helps students learn the “threshold concepts” that they need for college. Findings include, “When interviewed, most students said they found the tasks useful, though hard work. Teachers said their own expertise in understanding the specifications, identifying and tackling difficult concepts and articulating outcomes had increased.”

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