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Aurora Institute

Press Release

CompetencyWorks: Learning from the Cutting Edge

Collaborative project helps educators move beyond seat-time to ensure every student succeeds

WASHINGTON, DC – CompetencyWorks, a new website highlighting innovations, promising practices and solutions for tough issues that educators, administrators and policymakers face when shifting from a time-based system towards competency-based education, launched today at Combining research, an active blog, an expanding wiki, and the voices of practitioners from across the country, CompetencyWorks is the online extension of a collaboration of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), the American Youth Policy Forum, Jobs for the Future, the National Governor’s Association and MetisNet to support states, districts and schools as they innovate beyond the traditionally timebased structure of the K-12 system.

“As currently designed, our schools largely ignore the fact that in this burgeoning information age, students are in a continuous state of learning. Students should not be prisoners of time,” said Susan Patrick, iNACOL’s President and CEO. “Our single biggest policy concern as a country should be moving away from traditional seat-time toward competency-based models of learning found any time, any place and along any path for today’s students.”

In 2011, one hundred innovators in competency education gathered for a discussion of what would become the basis of CompetencyWorks’ five-part, working definition of high quality competency education:

  • Students advance upon mastery.
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

“Competency-based education is at the center of our efforts in New Hampshire to prepare our students for college and careers,” said Paul Leather, New Hampshire’s Deputy Commissioner of Education. “Through competency-based approaches and expanded-learning opportunities, we are reaching more of our students where, when and how they most effectively learn, ensuring mastery of content, and experiencing a declining dropout rate. CompetencyWorks is going to help all of us that are working to create a system that is designed for all students to succeed.”

Building upon the leadership examples of states such as New Hampshire, Ohio, and Oregon, CompetencyWorks will showcase the best practices of bold policymakers and practitioners who have worked to explore and implement new ways to expand and enrich support to students, challenging the assumption that learning takes place within the classroom. Regardless of whether a student is more comfortable learning online, developing skills through an internship or in community service, requires a more personalized learning plan, or falls into the oft-neglected category of over-age, under-credited, competency-based approaches will allow them the flexibility to succeed where strictly defined, time-based policies have not.

“If we are earnest about equity and excellence in education, then we must have a disciplined exchange about competency as a defining characteristic of emerging educational designs,” said Nicholas C. Donohue, President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. “Competency holds great promise as a design feature of high quality educational opportunities because it allows more customized approaches to learning while maintaining a rigorous commitment to college and career ready standards. However, we have more to learn about competency and how to grow a conversation about it with broader audiences. This is part of why we are proud to support CompetencyWorks. We hope that it will fill an important space in the education reform conversation by elevating the interchange of ideas, challenges and solutions regarding this leading-edge approach to learning.”

For more information about CompetencyWorks or to learn more about competency-based approaches to learning, please visit

CompetencyWorks is supported through the generosity of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the Donnell-Kay Foundation.

CompetencyWorks partner organizations:

International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL)
iNACOL is a non-profit 501(c)(3)-membership association based in the Washington, DC area with over 4,000 members. We are unique; our members represent a diverse cross-section of K-12 education from school districts, charter schools, state education agencies, non-profit organizations, research institutions, corporate entities and other content & technology providers.

American Youth Policy Forum
The American Youth Policy Forum, founded in 1993, is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that educates and informs policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on education, workforce, and youth issues at the national, state, and local levels. We believe all youth, regardless of race, income, geographical location, or family background, should have opportunities for high quality learning in order to develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for a successful career, to be a lifelong learner, and for engaged lives of citizenship.

Jobs for the Future
JFF identifies, develops, and promotes education and workforce strategies that expand opportunity for youth and adults who are struggling to advance in America today. In more than 200 communities across 43 states, JFF improves the pathways leading from high school to college to family-sustaining careers.

National Governors Association
The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) develops innovative solutions to today’s most pressing public policy challenges and is the only research and development firm that directly serves the nation’s governors.

MetisNet works with foundations, government, and individuals to identify the most effective ways to shape investments to catalyze social change. Our mission stems from the very root of our name – metis – a Greek word for local knowledge. Drawing on multiple perspectives, MetisNet works with clients to develop vibrant, asset-based investment strategies.

Nellie Mae Education Foundation
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation is the largest charitable organization in New England that focuses exclusively on education. The Foundation supports the promotion and integration of student-centered approaches to learning at the middle and high school levels across New England. To elevate student-centered approaches, the Foundation utilizes a three-part strategy that focuses on: developing and enhancing models of practice; reshaping education policies; and increasing public understanding and demand for high quality educational experiences. The Foundation’s initiative areas are: District Level Systems Change; State Level Systems Change; Research and Development; and Public Understanding. Since 1998, the Foundation has distributed over $140 million in grants. For more information, visit

Donnell-Kay Foundation
The Donnell-Kay Foundation is a private family foundation aiming to improve public education and drive systemic school reform in Colorado through research, creative dialogue and critical thinking. Our focus is funding reform and state-level policy in the areas of early childhood, K-12 and higher education.

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