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Aurora Institute

Base Learning on Mastery, Not Seat Time

Moving from “time-based” education policies toward “competency-based” structures for earning credits based on demonstrated mastery is a major shift and is fundamental to personalizing learning at scale.

Summary

Currently, high school diplomas are based on transcripts that award credit for academic subjects based on meeting minimum seat-time requirements and a passing grade, which may or may not signify mastery of the content. Mastery, or competency-based education, focuses on what students know and can do. Student progress is not measured by the amount of time spent in a classroom. Instead, student progress is measured by actual demonstration of competencies — building knowledge and skills needed for success. Competency-based education systems move away from the traditional seat-time-based, one-size-fits-all models of schooling. In a competency-based learning system, students advance upon demonstrated mastery and are empowered with the supports they need to succeed. Preparing all students for success requires creating an education system that promotes deep student engagement and empowers students to apply and demonstrate their learning.

States can play an important role in capacity-building to help school districts move away from seat-time credits and use credit flexibility policies to move toward highly-personalized education systems. Advanced states are redefining credits based on competency development and promoting mastery-based transcripts to ensure students earn credit based on mastery of knowledge and skills.

Recommendations

  • States can provide credit flexibility policies to allow districts and schools to move away from seat-time and to award credit for graduation based on demonstrated mastery.
  • States can also provide waivers as a first step to credit flexibility. Waivers allow school districts to request flexibility from state seat-time provisions for awarding credit.
  • Audit existing state statutes and regulation to identify policies that reinforce seat-time.
  • Allow students to earn credit by demonstrating mastery of skills learned inside and outside of school in extended learning opportunities, internships, work-based learning, after-school programs, and community-based learning.
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