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5 ways to move to personalized, competency-based education

Competency-based education can be a reality if policymakers and educators work together

A new report from iNACOL examines five key issues that could help improve the future of U.S. K-12 education and increase competency-based education, according to the authors.

In the report, the authors describe how the traditional education system isn’t designed to generate the goals educators and policymakers have set for it.

Ten primary flaws in the current education system–including that the traditional system is time-based, is built on a fixed mindset, and uses academic grading practices that can often send misleading signals about what students know–hinder progress.

But those flaws can be corrected if the U.S. education system is redesigned around the goal of student mastery, as outlined in the report. iNACOL offers specific action steps, policy strategies, and recommendations for enabling personalized, competency-based education.

Through the report, the group aims to inspire state policymakers, including governors, state legislators, state boards of education, state school chiefs, and state policy staff with a vision for transformation.

(Next page: Five issues and corresponding policy steps to move to personalized, competency-based education)

The report explores five issues to tackle to build toward a vision and strategy for transformation to personalized, competency-based education systems:

1. Redefining student success: A new definition of success is necessary to drive coherent K-12 education system improvements that are built on shared goals for all students to succeed and thrive in college, career, and civic life. States can begin to engage districts and communities around what students need to master for true preparedness.

Policy action steps:

  • Action Step #1: Adopt a statewide vision by convening diverse stakeholders to redefine student success and create a comprehensive Profile of a Graduate based on the knowledge and skills that students need for college, career, and civic life.
  • Action Step #2: Create a working group on meaningful qualifications to study other states’ and countries’ efforts to align credentials to comprehensive definitions of success.
  • Action Step #3: Consider opportunities in the state to improve K-12, higher education, and workforce alignment of knowledge, competencies, and skills.
  • Action Step #4: Adopt proficiency-based diplomas and support implementation by creating resources for school districts to effectively implement.

2. Meaningful qualifications: Meaningful qualifications are important because coherent education systems designed around meaningful qualifications can:

  • Motivate students to learn by clearly linking their studies with tangible outcomes.
  • Improve college persistence and graduation rates by reducing the need for remediation.
  • Reduce retraining costs for employers.
  • Promote lifelong learning.

Policy action steps for state policymakers to make qualifications more meaningful to students, institutions, and employers:

  • Action Step #1: Create a working group on meaningful qualifications to study other states’ and countries’ qualification frameworks; consider opportunities in the state to align and improve K-12, higher education and workforce qualifications.
  • Action Step #2: Convene stakeholders to redefine student success with a comprehensive Profile of a Graduate based on the knowledge and skills that students need for success in college, career, and civic life.
  • Action Step #3: Create proficiency-based graduation requirements and support their implementation.

3. Accountability as continuous improvement: States now have the opportunity to rethink accountability with models that provide transparency across multiple measures, drive continuous improvement at each level of the system, and empower stakeholders with the information and supports they need to meet students where they are in their learning with timely supports.

Some actions state policymakers could take to create accountability systems for continuous improvement include:

  • Action Step #1: Convene diverse stakeholders to redefine student success. The definition should reflect the knowledge and skills that all students will need to succeed in college, career, and civic life.
  • Action Step #2: Determine the measures the state will use for accountability purposes. The multiple measures should be aligned to the state’s vision for student success, provide transparency with timely data, and empower stakeholders to drive continuous improvement, identify schools for improvement, and target supports and resources where they are needed most.
  • Action Step #3: Engage with education stakeholders to develop or support professional learning communities across schools and districts and create a culture of continuous improvement in which educators and leaders from across the state can learn and grow.
  • Action Step #4: Empower communities and build trust by developing a framework for reciprocal accountability to ensure that resources and supports are responsive to the needs of local communities, districts, and schools.
  • Action Step #5: Identify school-improvement models to support student-centered learning with personalized, competency-based education and to advance equity. States have the flexibility under ESSA to empower communities to determine school-improvement models that work best for them as opposed to prescriptive models under No Child Left Behind.

4. Developing educator capacity: If policymakers are to transform K-12 education to personalized, student-centered learning systems, they need to also modernize educator preparation and development systems to become learner-centered, personalized, and competency-based.

Policy action steps:

  • Action Step #1: Support and engage with a working group composed of a diverse cross-section of educators, school leaders, district leaders, students, state leaders, and experts working across the field of competency-based education to define the space for the capacity and supports that are needed for a next-generation educator workforce designed to advance equity and competency-based learning.
  • Action Step #2: Learn about promising practices, programs, and policies to transform the educator workforce in the state and around the country by engaging with experts, researchers, and practitioners.
  • Action Step #3: Learn how high-performing countries have incorporated the core concept of assessment literacy into their education systems by engaging with experts, researchers, and practitioners, and/or through an international study tour.

5. Building capacity to lead change: Moving toward a competency-based education model requires fundamental shifts in systems, structures, and assumptions rooted in the traditional model of education. Those policy and practice changes require investment in human capital to prepare leaders and educators to have the capacity to help scale personalized, competency-based education in the state.

States can begin this work by considering the following action steps:

  • Action Step #1: Identify the competencies leaders need to transform to competency-based education systems.
  • Action Step #2: Convene a working group to examine pre-service, training, licensure, and certification issues and barriers for education leadership and what steps need to be taken to lead the shift to competency-based education.
  • Action Step #3: Commit to ensuring that educational-leadership-development systems are designed to produce change leaders dedicated to advancing equity through transformation to next-generation school models, and give consideration to recruiting and supporting diverse education-change leaders.
  • Action Step #4: Examine the challenges and opportunities for preparation programs to modernize their offerings to support competency-based systems.

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