Lesson Learned: Enabling Policy Isn’t Enough, It takes Incentives

July 7, 2015 by

Ohio SealOhio offers all of us a big lesson learned about how states can advance competency education. They have learned from experience that enabling policy isn’t enough, it is going to require incentives to engage districts in full systemic re-design. Several years ago, Ohio created credit flexibility that allowed for districts to award competency-based credits to students. Even though a district could have used this to create competency-based pathways or even make the transition to competency education, there was little uptake. So now the Ohio state legislature passed H.B. 64, which includes funds for pilots in competency-based education. (Go to page 2572 SECTION 263.280. to find information on the pilot.) The Ohio Department of Education is authorized to make two-year grants to five districts, schools, or consortia of districts and schools of up to $200,000 for each fiscal year.

Ohio is going to be a state to pay attention to, as they are also encouraging higher education to become competency-based, as well. Thus, we may start to see some innovations about how to create more seamless K-16 competency-based pathways.

Below is the testimony of iNACOL President and CEO Susan Patrick (and co-founder of CompetencyWorks) to the Ohio House Finance Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education regarding competency-based education:

Chairman Cupp and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of the competency-based education pilot program found in H.B. 64.

iNACOL is a non-profit organization with the mission to ensure all students have access to a world-class education and leads the CompetencyWorks initiative.

The competency-based education pilot is an important step for Ohio districts and schools to begin this transition towards providing personalized, competency-based learning to Ohio students.

The iNACOL/CCSSO definition of competency education has five elements:

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

Thank you for including these elements.

Competency education is rooted in the notion that education is about mastering a set of skills and knowledge, not just moving through a grade level with varying gaps in knowledge.

We know that if left unaddressed, student learning gaps will get bigger over time.

Why do we wait an entire semester for a student to fail a course, if they haven’t been successful? Instead, we could do unit recovery. As soon as a student misses a concept, the support would occur to ensure that proficiency is reached in a timely manner.

What do competency education instructional models look like?

Redesigning a system around learning rather than time requires students and teachers co-designing activities around learning goals daily, personalized learning plans, measuring progress based on mastery and ensuring students only advance when they are ready to move on.

Students know exactly what they are learning and what proficiency looks like. Rubrics and examplars of student work for measuring and calibrating proficiency and mastery are transparent and readily available. Students should be able to tell you what they are working on, how they will be assessed, how to get extra support if they need it, and what they will learn next.

Students are working in their zone of proximal development, on the learning targets they will need for the next level of study, and with frequent feedback and the instructional support needed until they demonstrate they can apply the skills and knowledge — A, B or “try again.” “Failure is not an option.”

Competency-based education policy is being advanced in 40 states across the country.

New Hampshire has moved entirely away from seat time, basing credits, progression, and diplomas on student mastery of competencies. They are piloting competency-based systems of assessments and a new accountability model for competency education that was recently approved by the US Department of Education.

A district in New Hampshire created an extended learning program that enables students to build skills, demonstrate competencies, earn credit from experiences gained inside or outside of the school environment, and even partner with higher education institutions to gain college credits. Each opportunity is different based on student interest and location on the learning progression, but shares a commonality of involving research, reflection, and a presentation or project that links to the state academic standards.

There are competency-based pilots in Iowa. Kentucky and Arkansas are providing flexibility around certain rules and regulations to enable the implementation of competency-based, personalized learning environments.

Competency-based education is best described as a locally-driven and an educator-led reform. School leaders are designing innovative new models all over the United States, contributing to our knowledge of new ways to organize teaching and learning and empowering teachers to personalize learning in ways never before possible.

To conclude

H.B. 64 provides needed flexibility to give districts and schools the ability to design school models based on competency to ensure every student is successful.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of competency-based education pilot programs in H.B. 64.

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