Tag: state policy

Considerations for Next Generation Accountability System Redesign

March 7, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on February 6, 2018.

The previous blog, Why Next Generation Accountability for Continuous Improvement is Important, explored the need to redesign accountability systems to support all learners based on reciprocal accountability and continuous improvement. This blog will focus on how states can begin to design next generation accountability systems.

As policymakers think long term about accountability redesign, an important first step in the development of a next generation accountability system is to create a clear vision of student success with diverse internal and external stakeholders. A shared vision for student success can clarify the purpose of the state’s K-12 education system and drive coherent policies across the education system to make that vision a reality. One way states can create a shared statewide vision that reflect a new definition of success is through the creation of graduate profiles (Redefining Student Success: Profile of a Graduate). (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

February 26, 2018 by

What's new! star graphicEducation Policy Resources


Ways that States Are Beginning the Shift to Competency-Based Education

February 22, 2018 by

This is the seventeenth post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

There are many different entry points for policymakers wishing to enable the shift to a more personalized, competency-based K-12 education system in their state.

States that do not yet have any enabling policies in place may wish to take one or two incremental, initial steps to create space for new learning models, while a state that already has made some progress may be contemplating some bolder, more comprehensive steps toward transformation. We will not attempt to thoroughly discuss each entry point in this blog, however, we will highlight the promising policies most states are starting with in their journeys. The iNACOL report, Promising State Policies for Personalized Learning, goes into each of these policy levers, with examples of specific policies and practices that are active in different states. (more…)

A Growing Movement: Behind the Shift to Competency-Based Diplomas

January 10, 2018 by

Why We Must Reconsider the High School Diploma

By at least one important metric, American education appears to be making progress. Our high school students are graduating at record rates, and the numbers have been steadily climbing in recent years.[i] However, behind this veil of graduation rates,[1] abundant evidence reveals that we still have a lot of work to do. Compared globally, the US still ranks in the bottom half of the industrialized world in graduation rates, and a sizeable attainment gap persists between whites and minorities.[ii] Among those who do graduate high school and enroll in postsecondary education, nearly half require remedial coursework.[iii] As a result, our college completion rates are alarmingly low—especially for minorities.[2] In fact, only 9.5% of students requiring remedial reading coursework in community colleges leave with a degree, while only 35% in four-year colleges graduate.[iv]

These results pose an especially dire forecast when one considers the increasing importance of postsecondary education. As Jobs for the Future adeptly noted in its 2017 recommendations for the reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act, “[t]here is a dire need for skilled workers and mounting evidence that postsecondary education has a direct impact on earnings. The shifting needs of the current economy make it clear that to attain real upward mobility, workers will need to be equipped with the education and skills that make them of high value to employers and able to adapt to changes in the workplace.[v]” It is likely the absence of the necessary training and skills that leads two thirds of hiring managers to say they cannot find qualified workers to fill even middle-skills jobs.[vi]

If we are to break the cycle of poverty, particularly among our minority communities, and if we are to ensure the economic welfare of our nation, the American education system must do something about our college matriculation and remediation rates. States and districts must find solutions to ensure that kids are prepared to succeed when they leave high school and not hamstrung with an unemployable skillset.

One such solution that many states are exploring is the competency-based diploma. Though policies differ among the states, competency-based diplomas (sometimes referred to as proficiency-based diplomas) typically discard traditional graduation credit requirements that rely heavily on the number of hours students spend in the classroom, instead requiring that students demonstrate certain competencies before earning credit for a course. Thus, competency-based diplomas create an advantage in that they inherently require individualized attention to each student’s mastery of standards, and they guard against time-based promotion. Only by ensuring that each student truly ascertains the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for postsecondary success can we improve college and career readiness.

The Movement for Competency-Based Diplomas

So, which states are shifting towards competency-based diplomas? To date, most states actually have laws allowing districts to issue competency-based diplomas, either by submitting a detailed proposal for a competency-based system to the state or by taking part in a state program in which districts can pilot a competency-based diploma. However, six states are taking the policy a step further and uniformly requiring that at least some portion of graduation requirements include the demonstration of proficiency for credit. Among those six states, two distinct approaches to the competency-based diploma have surfaced: a few states have fully proficiency-based graduation requirements, and a few have partially proficiency-based requirements. (more…)

Sketching Out the Vision for a Competency-Based Policy Platform

January 4, 2018 by

It’s hard, really hard, to imagine different worlds. Sure, science fiction writers and film directors must have a blast creating new worlds that inspire us, frighten us, or both. Being able to imagine a world where the education system consistently produces engaged, motivated students who are excited about their futures and graduating with a basket of knowledge and tools that open up doors to the world they want to live in requires a mix of creativity and analysis. Harder yet is imagining what the policy would need to be for this world that we are just beginning to build district by district, school by school.

The team of people involved with shaping the ideas and writing the paper Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education are doing just that. They are sketching out for all of us what the policies are going to need to look like and what they are going to need to do in order to support personalized, competency-based systems.

If you remember, iNACOL/CompetencyWorks used a participatory process, referred to as the Technical Advisory Group, to develop draft papers before the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. At the Summit, we collected feedback from the participants in order to fine-tune the ideas. Today, the final version Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education is being released.

There is a lot in the paper to chew on. Personally, I find the concept of threshold concepts really helpful. They are “core concepts, that once understood, are needed to transform a given subject.” In other words, they require time to learn about, a process to analyze not only what it means for the future but what it means for how the traditional system operates, and a set of colleagues to engage in a dialogue about the implications and what it can mean for each of our own work.

The paper outlines four threshold concepts:

  1. Certifying learning;
  2. Assessment literacy;
  3. Pedagogical innovations based on learning sciences; and
  4. Meeting students where they are.


Why the Education Status Quo Cannibalizes New Ideas – and What to Do about It

December 19, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on October 27, 2017.

With the last round of ESSA plans rolling in this fall, states have put a stake in the ground. Education leaders across the nation have all articulated what they hope their school systems will look like in the coming years, and spelled out the strategies that they hope will get them there.

But Disruptive Innovation Theory suggests a risk on states’ road ahead: processes that dominated the past can wreak havoc on best-laid plans.

All organizations—for-profit, nonprofit, public, and private—have a model that consists of three things: resources, processes, and priorities (RPP). Our research shows that in the formative stages of an organization, the available resources determine much of what gets done. But as an organization matures, like most decades-old state agencies and school districts, the people working in the organization gradually come to assume that the processes and priorities they’ve repeatedly used in the past are the right way to do their work. Those processes and priorities become ingrained in an organization’s culture. How an organization brings in revenue further entrenches its RPP. In the case of state agencies and districts, if existing ways of doing business keep the budget afloat, they quickly become habit.

An organization’s RPP in turn spells the fate of which innovations the organization is willing to pursue. Mature organizations naturally pursue sustaining innovations—that is, innovations that align with their time-honored processes and priorities. Meanwhile, disruptive innovations—innovations that upend or compete with existing priorities—almost always get neglected or ignored in mature organizations. That’s because they don’t make sense to the organization’s established RPP.

This phenomenon helps explain what reformers often bemoan as a “status quo bias” that frustrates new ideas in education. Although that bias is often cast as a political problem, it is also, in fact, an organizational management problem. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

December 13, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicThe Barr Foundation announced eight grantees redesigning their New England high school model to transcend the school walls and blend the lines between school, college, career, and the community in order to help all students develop the competencies required for a 21st-century definition of student success. Grantees include:

Thought Leadership

Videos to Engage Stakeholders

Equity and CBE

  • KnowledgeWorks published a blog on how competency-based education systems can lead to more equitable classrooms.
  • Marcos Lucio Popovich of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation writes about understanding the root causes of inequities. Nellie Mae is inviting districts from New England to respond to a request for proposals that asks them to identify the systemic and school level barriers that perpetuate gaps in college and career readiness based on race, language, special education status, and income, and target interventions that appropriately address such barriers. To learn more about the grant fund, read through the request for proposals.


Are Non-Traditional Diplomas and Transcripts Barriers to Implementing Personalized Learning?

November 21, 2017 by

As part of its efforts to build understanding and advance policies to support personalized learning and mastery-based education, ExcelinEd’s advocacy of innovation and pilot programs is identifying state policies that hinder full implementation of personalized learning as well as those that can provide better support.

Below is a quick overview of personalized learning, challenges related to nontraditional diplomas and transcripts, and a recommendation for state policy that you can use to engage state policymakers.


Personalized learning tailors a student’s educational experience to meet their unique strengths, interests, and needs while empowering students to play a greater role in their learning. Coupled with flexibility in pace and delivery, personalized learning is grounded in the idea that students should progress when they demonstrate mastery of key content and skills regardless of the time spent in class or even where instruction takes place.


Non-traditional diplomas or transcripts can place graduates from schools implementing personalized learning at a disadvantage when applying for admission to colleges and universities as well as financial aid. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

November 8, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicA Must-Read: The Hewlett Foundation Assessment for Learning Work Group released Principles for Assessment Design and Use to Support Student Autonomy.

Thought Leadership


  • This article examines the ways in which we assess students’ high school experiences and the impact this has on their eligibility for college.

Recruiting and Supporting Educators


  • The Colorado Education Initiative released a new strategy that includes Competency-Based/Personalized Learning, and states that CEI is intensifying their efforts to help districts build systems where students advance based on demonstrated readiness and educators tailor learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests.
  • Colorado’s Thompson School District is launching a “Seeing Is Believing” Tour as a type of professional learning where practitioners across 10 secondary schools work across buildings to showcase their classrooms, share success stories, and to unite as a district to do what’s best for students.The Donnell-Kay Foundation embarked on a journey across Colorado schools to examine how schools that have transitioned to a four-day school week are leveraging the fifth day. Here’s an update on their journey and learnings.



What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

September 20, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicBrian Stack and Jonathan Vander Els are publishing a book on September 27, 2017 titled: Breaking with Tradition: The Shift to Competency-Based Learning in PLCs at Work. Learn more and preorder here.

California’s Lindsay Unified School District

  • Lindsey Unified released a new video on their “learning communities” and how they are transforming public education to support a healthy, empowered and sustainable community.
  • Lindsay released a new podcast, Lindsay Live, which will provide insights into what it takes to succeed in the performance based system.


  • New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) program is showing early improvements in the Smarter Balanced assessments over the past two years, with significant improvements for students with disabilities, when compared with non-PACE districts. Read more about this early evidence of student achievement gains in this blog and in this article.
  • In competency-based systems, athletic directors are rethinking what eligibility for sports looks like.
  • The New York Times covered competency-based education in New York City.

On Race and Equity

Colorado’s District 51

Policy Updates


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