Experts say it shouldn't matter how fast students cross the finish line, but that they actually cross it.

A new report says that competency-based learning is becoming more attainable for schools, and with some actionable policy steps, state education leaders can help schools personalize learning and focus on competency rather than how long students are in school.

The report, titled “Cracking the Code: Synchronizing Policy and Practice for Performance-Based Learning,” comes from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), with help from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). It calls into question the logic of “seat time” and current accountability standards.

“We are proposing what amounts to a vital change in current methods of instruction and measurement so that students can move ahead when they demonstrate knowledge,” said Susan Patrick, co-author of the report and president of iNACOL. “Unfortunately, many states and school districts are still handcuffed by rigid regulations that prevent them from moving toward the student-centered, performance-based approach.”

The report, says Patrick, offers guidance and practical recommendations for state education policy makers. The recommendations are based on discussions by education stakeholders during the 2011 Competency-Based Learning Summit from iNACOL and the CCSSO earlier this year.

The report says a comprehensive policy redesign will require competency-based credits, personalized learning plans, information technology, professional development (PD), and quality control in support of individual student growth for accountability “while aligning higher education with K-12 competency-based efforts.”

A starting point

The report begins by defining what is meant by competency-based, or performance-based, learning—as well as why it needs support.