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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Teacher Preparation

November 2017


What does the research say about effective school- and district-level practices to support competency-based learning?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, policy summaries and policy recommendations on effective school- and district-level practices to support competency-based learning. “In competency-based education, students must demonstrate mastery of course content to be promoted to the next class or grade, rather than spending a required number of hours in a class and meeting minimum course requirements to earn course credit” (Brodersen, et al., 2017). For details on the databases and sources, keywords and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Brodersen, R. M., Yanoski, D., Mason, K., Apthorp, H., & Piscatelli, J. (2017). Overview of selected state policies and supports related to K-12 competency-based education. REL 2017-249. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Competency-based education—also known as proficiency-based, mastery-based, and performance-based education—has received increased attention in recent years as an education approach that may help ensure that students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills necessary for college and their careers. In competency-based education, students must demonstrate mastery of course content to be promoted to the next class or grade, rather than spending a required number of hours in a class and meeting minimum course requirements to earn course credit. The approach helps guarantee that students attain competency in course content, with students allowed to take as much or as little time as they need to achieve such competency. Many states, including those in the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Central Region, have revised or are considering revising their policies to align more with competency-based education and other innovative education practices (National Governors Association, 2012). Education leaders in the REL Central Region are interested in learning about policies that affect implementation of competency-based education by understanding policies already in place in their state and learning about the policies of states further ahead in implementation. To help meet this need, this report summarizes the laws and regulations of the seven states in the REL Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming), as well as the policies of five states outside the region identified as being advanced in aligning their policies to support competency-based education (Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, and Oregon). This scan of state policies also categorizes the different types of supports these 12 states have provided to intentionally support competency-based education. State and district policymakers can use the information in this report to increase their understanding of the current laws and regulations in their state that may facilitate or hinder competency-based education and to learn about the policies and resources that other states have to support this education approach. State laws and regulations were classified into three broad policy categories, each with several subcategories and associated policy types: (1) Credit flexibility: credit requirements, assessment of student competency, and graduation requirements; (2) Progression flexibility: additional education time, accelerated curriculum, early high school credit, and early graduation; and (3) Individual learning options: online or blended learning; early college, dual, or concurrent enrollment; and experiential learning. Policies on credit flexibility can influence the flexibility by which educational experiences are applied toward graduation and whether it is necessary for students to have mastered course content before progressing. Progression flexibility policies can support or hinder the ability of students to progress through their coursework and classes at their own rate, while policies associated with individual learning options can influence the education opportunities available to students, particularly options that allow education to occur outside the traditional classroom. The study found that: (1) States vary in the extent to which and manner in which they allow flexibility in how students earn academic credits and qualify for high school graduation; (2) Advanced competency-based-education states have more progression flexibility policies in place than do Regional Educational Laboratory Central Region states; and (3) All states have policies that provide students individual learning options. Through examination of publicly available documents, the policy scan also categorized the different types of supports states provide to facilitate competency-based education. These included informational and technical assistance, support for competency-based-education collaboratives, and pilot and special program funding. Results indicated that one Regional Educational Laboratory Central Region state and all five advanced competency-based-education states provide support specifically intended to facilitate competency-based education.”

Frost, D., & Worthen, M. (2017). iNACOL Issue Brief: State policy & K-12 competency-based education. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from

From the background: “To prepare all students for success in the future economy, K-12 education systems need to transform. Competency-based education systems move away from the traditional seat-time-based, one-size-fits-all model of schooling; instead, students advance upon demonstrated mastery and are empowered with the supports they need to succeed. Competency-based education models will ensure students are ready for a 21st century economy and can succeed in college, careers and civic life.

What can policymakers do to encourage a shift to K-12 competency education? No matter where a state is starting from, there are different entry points policymakers can take to enable and support competency-based systems.

This iNACOL Issue Brief provides an overview of competency-based education, and provides policy recommendations and resources for policymakers who are ready to take the next step.”

Geif, G., Shultz, G., & Ellis, S. (2016). A qualitative study of student-centered learning practices in New England high schools. Quincy, MA: Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “What exactly does student-centered learning look like in New England schools? This paper offers a comprehensive analysis of student-centered approaches in 12 schools across the region, highlighting the richness and complexity of these practices and the impact they have on students, staff and schools. This study additionally examines the broad array of factors within and beyond school walls that can foster and challenge the implementation of student-centered practices.”

Haynes, E., Zeiser, K., Surr, W., Hauser, A., Clymer, L., Walston, J., … Yang, R. (2016). Looking under the hood of competency-based education: The relationship between competency-based education practices and students’ learning skills, behaviors, and dispositions. Quincy, MA: Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Competency-based education is gaining popularity in schools nationwide, and research is just beginning to catch up. A growing practice, competency-based education makes student mastery of learning goals—rather than seat time—the metric to determine student credit and progression. Competency-based education approaches can offer students greater opportunities for deep and personalized learning; as students work toward achieving competency at their own pace, they typically experience more individualized support as well as greater autonomy, flexibility, and responsibility over their own learning—conditions that we would expect to increase academic engagement, motivation, self-efficacy, and other learning capacities that predict academic success.”

This study takes a closer look at how schools implement competency-based education, and examines how ninth grade students’ experiences of competency-based education practices are related to these ‘learning capacities,’ or the skills, behaviors, and dispositions that students need to learn effectively. Through a careful analysis of competency-based education in a group of high schools in three states, researchers sought to understand which competency-based education practices, if any, are associated with positive changes in students’ learning capacities during their first year of high school.”

Jobs for the Future & the Council of Chief State School Officers. (2017). Leadership competencies for learner-centered, personalized education. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and Jobs for the Future (JFF) have released Leadership Competencies for Learner-Centered, Personalized Education, a resource that serves as a first step in identifying the knowledge, skills, and dispositions leaders must master in order to build and sustain learner-centered, personalized schools and learning environments.”

This set of competencies describes and defines what leaders need to know and be able to do in order to create transformative, student centered-learning. Learner-centered refers to four specific practices that together show strong evidence of success in preparing students for college, careers and civic life:

  • Personalized learning
  • Competency-based education
  • Anytime/anywhere learning opportunities
  • Student ownership

These competencies are designed specifically for education leaders, including principals, assistant principals, headmasters, or school directors. A companion resource, Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-centered Teaching, focuses on the educators closest to and responsible for a group of students’ learning process on a day-to-day basis.

CCSSO and JFF convened local, state and national groups to recommend ways to use the Leadership Competencies for Learner-Centered, Personalized Education to advance the preparation, recruitment and development of school level leaders in learner-centered settings.

According to Leadership Competencies for Learner-Centered, Personalized Education, successful leaders in personalized, learner-centered settings will start with the learner and equity at the center. The knowledge, skills and dispositions leaders need to create equitable, learner-centered environments span four domains:

  • Vision, Values, and Culture for personalized learning communities (leaders and vision)
  • Personal Skills, Mindsets, and Values (leaders and self)
  • Capacity Building for Innovation and Continuous Improvement (leaders and others)
  • Shared Responsibility and Structures for Continuous Improvement, Innovation, and assessment (leaders and systems).”

Le, C., Wolfe, R. E., & Steinberg, A. (2014). The past and the promise: Today’s competency education movement. Boston, MA: Jobs For the Future. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Competency education is attracting significant interest as a promising way to help meet our national priority of ensuring that all young people are ready for college and careers. In competency-based schools, students advance at different rates, based on their ability to demonstrate mastery of learning objectives. Teachers provide customized supports to help propel everyone to proficiency. This is the first paper in Students at the Center’s new Competency Education Research Series. It lays a foundation for assessing the potential of competency-based models, grounded in an exploration of the outcomes from previous like-minded efforts. Recent research and theory from the learning sciences shows that a personalized approach to competency education may help better prepare all students from all backgrounds for deeper learning and for life after graduation. New information technologies are making it feasible to try these strategies on a large scale. Putting in place an equitable system necessitates navigating the many—but far from insurmountable—political and implementation challenges facing personalized competency education.”

Lopez, N., Patrick, S., & Sturgis, C. (2017). Quality and equity by design: Charting the course for the next phase of competency-based education. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from

From the introduction: “This paper and the ideas within it offer a resource for the field at a critical time in its evolution. The number of schools and districts implementing competency-based models has steadily increased over the past few years. There are many reasons why districts turn to competency education, including lifting the ceiling on learning so that students can excel beyond their grade levels; ensuring students are building higher order skills; seeking to offer students a richer education beyond preparation for college and careers; opening up more opportunities for students to learn any place, any time; and, responding to demographic changes.”

Murphy, M., Redding, S., & Twyman, J. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook on personalized learning for states, districts, and schools. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University, Center on Innovations in Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The ‘Handbook on Innovations in Learning’, published in 2014, responded to a call by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to ‘leverage the innovation and ingenuity this nation is known for to create programs and projects that every school can implement to succeed.’ In December 2015, passage of the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ (ESSA) presented new opportunities and greater flexibility in efforts to personalize learning for all children. This ‘Handbook on Personalized Learning for States, Districts, and Schools’ provides insight and guidance on maximizing that new flexibility. This volume suggests how teachers can enhance personalized learning by cultivating relationships with students and their families to better understand a child's learning and motivation. Personalized learning also encourages the development of students’ metacognitive, social, and emotional competencies, thereby fostering students’ self-direction in their own education, one aimed at mastery of knowledge and skills and readiness for career and college. Chapters address topics across the landscape of personalized learning, including co-designing instruction and learning pathways with students; variation in the time, place, and pace of learning, including flipped and blended classrooms; and using technology to manage and analyze the learning process. The chapters include Action Principles to guide states, districts, and schools in personalizing learning.”

Pace, L., & Worthen, M. (2014). Laying the foundation for competency education: A policy guide for the next generation educator workforce. CompetencyWorks Issue Brief. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This paper provides a vision and set of policy recommendations to help federal, state, and local leaders develop the workforce necessary to support teaching and learning in a competency-based K-12 education system. Part One, Pre-service and Credentialing for K-12 Competency-Based Learning Environments, provides policymakers with a framework and set of actions to build educator competency, focusing on the alignment of pre-service preparation and credentialing programs with K-12 competency-based learning environments. Part Two, Continuous Improvement of Instruction: Professional Development and Evaluation, reveals strategies for integrating and strengthening professional development and evaluation systems to ensure educators have the personalized and ongoing support needed to excel in competency-based environments. Both sections also include an analysis of current policy barriers and a case study of an early adopter that has taken bold steps to integrate competency-based principles into the preparation and continuous improvement of the educator workforce. The authors hope this paper advances the national dialogue about education reform, inspiring policymakers to implement a new vision for teaching and leading that elevates the rigor and performance of our education system. They also hope that this conversation refocuses the national dialogue in favor of policies that support teachers and leaders so they are empowered to focus on what matters most for student learning.”

Pane, J. F., Steiner, E. D., Baird, M. D., & Hamilton, L. S. (2015). Continued progress: Promising evidence on personalized learning. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from:

From the ERIC abstract: “The adoption of personalized learning approaches has increased significantly in recent years. This report examines achievement in 62 public charter and district schools that are pursuing a variety of personalized learning practices, and examines implementation details in 32 of those schools. Researchers obtained achievement data for personalized learning students and a matched comparison group of students attending other schools serving similar populations. They also collected and analyzed data from site visits, interviews, and surveys to create a broad picture of the schools’ efforts to implement personalized learning and the perceptions of teachers and students. The achievement findings indicate that compared to peers, students in schools using personalized learning practices are making greater progress over the course of two school years, and that those students who started out behind are catching up to perform at or above national averages. The study finds that teachers at most schools were using data to understand student progress and make instructional decisions, all schools offered time for individual academic support, and the use of technology for personalization was widespread. However, some strategies, such as competency-based progression, were less common and more challenging to implement. Key findings are grouped into four sections. The first section on student achievement finds that there were positive effects on student mathematics and reading performance and that the lowest-performing students made substantial gains relative to their peers. The second section on implementation and the perceptions of stakeholders finds that adoption of personalized learning practices varied considerably. Personalized learning practices that are direct extensions of current practice were more common, but implementation of some of the more challenging personalized learning strategies was less common. The third section relates implementation features to outcomes and identifies three elements of personalized learning that were being implemented in tandem in the schools with the largest achievement effects. Finally, the fourth section compares teachers’ and students’ survey responses to a national sample and finds some differences, such as teachers’ greater use of practices that support competency-based learning and greater use of technology for personalization in the schools in this study with implementation data.”

Pane, J. F., Steiner, E. D., Baird, M. D., Hamilton, L. S., & Pane, J. D. (2017). Informing progress: Insights on personalized learning implementation and effects. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

From the abstract: The basic concept of personalized learning (PL)—instruction that is focused on meeting students’ individual learning needs while incorporating their interests and preferences—has been a longstanding practice in U.S. K-12 education. Options for personalization have increased as personal computing devices have become increasingly affordable and available in schools and developers created software to support individual student learning. In recent years, it has become more common for schools to embrace schoolwide models of PL.

We collected data from schools in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC)’s Breakthrough School Models program. Our study seeks to describe the practices and strategies these schools used to implement PL, understand some of the challenges and facilitators, and consider these alongside achievement findings to discern patterns that may be informative.

Teachers and students reported higher levels of many aspects of personalization than their counterparts in a national sample. These included time for one-on-one tailored support for learning; using up-to-date information on student progress to personalize instruction and group students; students tracking their own progress; competency-based practices; and flexible use of staff, space, and time. However, some more-difficult-to-implement aspects did not appear to differ from practices in schools nationally, such as student discussions with teachers on progress and goals; keeping up-to-date documentation of student strengths, weaknesses, and goals; and student choice of topics and materials.

We estimate study students gained about 3 percentile points in mathematics relative to a comparison group of similar students. In reading, there was a similar trend, though it was not statistically significant. Low-performing and high-performing students appeared to benefit.”

Patrick, S., Worthen, M., Frost, D., & Gentz, S. (2016). Meeting the Every Student Succeeds Act’s promise: State policy to support personalized learning. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Under the new federal K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have a historic opportunity to transform K-12 education toward personalized, student-centered learning. This law represents a marked shift in federal control to states, presenting state and local stakeholders with important opportunities and flexibilities to redefine student success and the goals of the United States education system.

This policy report provides recommendations for state policymakers to support local and statewide efforts to transform student learning in K-12 education through personalized, competency-based learning. Taken as a whole, the recommendations present a comprehensive state policy approach to transforming K-12 education. Such an approach will ensure every student can access powerful, personalized learning opportunities in order to develop the knowledge, skills and competencies they will need to be successful.

We encourage state leaders to develop and advance a coordinated set of these recommendations in a way that best meets the needs of students in their state.”

Priest, N., Rudenstine, A., Weisstein, E., & Gerwin, C. (2012). Making mastery work: A close-up view of competency education. Quincy, MA: Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education highlights the work of ten schools participating in the Proficiency-Based Pathways Project (PBP). Led by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and developed to build broad understanding of the implementation of mastery-based approaches to teaching and learning, the PBP schools profiled in the report are located in rural, suburban, and inner-city regions in New England. You can find out more about the eleven schools at the Competency-based Pathways wiki including resources, links and tools.

The report’s authors, Nora Priest, Antonia Rudenstine and Ephraim Weisstein, examine several issues through the collected experiences of the participating schools including: the creation of a transparent mastery and assessment system, time flexibility, curriculum and instruction, leadership for competency education development, and the role of data and information technology in a competency-based education model.”

Shubilla, L., & Sturgis, C. (2012). The learning edge: Supporting student success in a competency-based learning environment. CompetencyWorks Issue Brief. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “State by state, our country is revamping our education system to ensure that each and every one of our young people is college and career ready. To ensure high-quality competency education, in 2011 one hundred innovators created a working definition to guide the field. This paper delves into the fourth element of the definition: ‘Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs’. Through a series of interviews and site visits, an understanding of how support in a competency-based school differs from traditional approaches emerged. Learning in a competency-based environment means pushing students and adults to the edge of their comfort zone and competence—the learning edge. Common themes that were drawn from the wide variety of ways schools support students became the basis for the design principles introduced in this report. The aim of this paper is to provide ideas and guidance so that innovators in competency education can put into place powerful systems of supports for students in order to eradicate, not replicate, the inequities and variability in quality and outcomes that exist in our current system. This paper is an initial exploration into what it means to provide support for the individual learning needs of students. It is designed to generate reflection, analysis, and feedback.”

Silvernail, D. L., Stump, E. K., McCafferty, A. S., & Hawes, K. M. (2014). Implementation of a proficiency-based diploma system in Maine: Phase II—District level analysis. Gorham, ME: Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report describes the findings from Phase II of a study of Maine's implementation of a proficiency-based diploma system. At the request of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs of the Maine Legislature, the Maine Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) has conducted a two-phased study of the implementation of Maine law ‘LD 1422: An Act to Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy.’ Phase I of the study in 2012-2013 reported on the preliminary development, costs and impacts of standards-based school programs in Maine. Phase II of the study focused on examining school districts in Maine implementing a proficiency-based diploma system. Eight Maine school districts, representing different school district sizes, geographic areas, and years of implementing proficiency-based reforms were examined through site visits, interviews, and focus groups. Implementing a proficiency-based diploma system by 2018 represents a sea change in the way education is provided for Maine children. The evidence from both phases of this study indicated that many school districts are working diligently to fulfill the state mandate. In so doing school districts are seeing some key benefits from this work. At the same time, school districts are facing some key challenges in completing this work. Each of these key benefits and challenges are described in the report, along with a series of recommendations to facilitate future work in implementing Maine’s proficiency-based diploma system.”

Steele, J. L., Lewis, M. W., Santibañez, L., Faxon-Mills, S., Rudnick, M., Stecher, B. M., & Hamilton, L. S. (2014). Competency-based education in three pilot programs. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation created the Project Mastery grant program to support competency-based education initiatives in large school systems that serve a high proportion of disadvantaged youth. Competency-based education meets students where they are academically, provides students with opportunities for choice, and awards credit for evidence of learning, not for the time students spend studying a subject. The Foundation asked RAND to evaluate these efforts in terms of implementation, students’ experiences, and student performance. This report presents final results from that evaluation, offering an overview of competency-based education and the Project Mastery grant projects and describing the implementation of competency-based educational features under each project. The report concludes with six lessons for policy, partnerships, and practice.”

Stump, E. K., & Silvernail, D. L. (2014). Implementation of a proficiency-based diploma system: Phase I—Early experiences in Maine. Gorham, ME: Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Following the passage of No Child Left Behind, there has been increased attention among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners on the emergence and implementation of standards-based education. Existing literature documents both the promise of standards-based education and the various potential obstacles to achieving success that teachers, administrators, and policymakers confront. The present study examines the early implementation process of proficiency-based education standards in the state of Maine, per Maine law ‘LD 1422: An Act to Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy.’ Under LD 1422, all schools are expected to establish a proficiency-based diploma system by 2018. Using a two-phase, qualitative approach, our findings suggest that benefits include improved student engagement, greater attention to development of robust interventions systems and more deliberate collective and collaborative professional work. In addition, practitioners and leaders indicated the need for continued work and resources to address challenges of implementation, including common working definitions, public support, time for professional collaboration, development of effective learning management system and addressing the needs of students at various developmental stages.”

Sturgis, C. (2015). Implementing competency education in K-12 systems: Insights from local leaders. CompetencyWorks Issue Brief. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Competency education, an educator-led reform, is taking root in schools and districts across the country. In some states, state leadership has cleared the path with policies to advance competency education. This paper seeks to map out the terrain of the district implementation strategies being used to convert traditional systems into personalized, competency-based ones. Although not a detailed guide, the hope is that the discussion offered here will prepare you to begin the transformational process. Four stages of implementation are proposed in this paper: (1) Ramping Up for Transformation; (2) Designing the Infrastructure for Learning; (3) Transitioning to a Competency- Based System; and (4) Embracing Continuous Improvement and Innovation. Schools and their district offices work in partnership during this transformation, which means implementation issues at both levels will be discussed. The findings in this paper are based on interviews and site visits conducted over the past five years as well as the knowledge shared by leaders in the field at CompetencyWorks.”

Torres, A. S., Brett, J., & Cox, J. (2015). Competency-based learning: Definitions, policies, and implementation. Waltham, MA: Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands at EDC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study was to examine how competency-based learning (CBL) is defined across states in the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands region and gain insight into barriers and facilitators to implementation of this reform. Many states in the region have started to consider and implement competency-based learning as a secondary school reform to increase graduation rates and ensure that students have the skills and knowledge for postsecondary success. Under competency-based approaches, students demonstrate mastery of a defined set of standards or competencies to earn credit toward graduation rather than completing credit requirements based on time spent in class. To master the learning standards or competencies, students are given support and additional time as needed. A review of state-level policies in each of the seven states in the region was conducted along with interviews with a sample of 20 administrators in three states (6 state-level administrators, 11 district-level administrators, and 3 school-level administrators) to gain an understanding of the range of state- and district-level policies in the region on this reform and the perceived barriers and facilitators for implementing competency-based learning. Interviews were conducted with nine administrators from Maine, four from Massachusetts, and seven from Rhode Island. Findings indicate that there was no common definition of competency-based learning in state and district policies or in interviews with administrators; however, researchers identified common elements of the reform (e.g., students must demonstrate mastery of all required proficiencies or competencies to earn credit; students advance once they have demonstrated mastery; students are assessed using multiple measures to determine mastery; students can earn credit toward graduation through multiple means rather than just through course taking). Results also revealed that developing the competencies involved aligning the curriculum, instruction, and assessments to the competencies. Needed supports included communication strategies, ongoing teacher support and time for collaboration, and access to more research and models on this reform. The findings from this study demonstrate that a lack of a consistent, common definition of competency-based learning that outlines the major elements of this reform leads to a broad range of practices. Education leaders at the state, district, and school levels must work together to establish a shared understanding of competency-based learning and support schools as they find ways to implement this reform so that competency-based learning will meet intended goals of increasing graduation rates and ensuring college and career readiness.”

Twyman, J. S. (2014). Competency-based education: Supporting personalized learning. Connect: Making Learning Personal. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University, Center on Innovations in Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This issue brief is the first in a series produced by the Center on Innovations in Learning’s League of Innovators. The series will describe, discuss, and analyze policies and practices that enable personalization in education. Topics should be of particular interest to state education agencies and district and school personnel. This first issue overviews the complexities of implementing competency-based education, a component of personalization that has received growing attention. Subsequent issues of the series will present either issue briefs, like this one, or field reports on lessons learned by practitioners recounting the successes and obstacles to success encountered in implementing personalized learning. Neither the issue briefs nor the field reports attempt to present in-depth reviews of the research; for those resources readers are encouraged to access the Center on Innovations in Learning’s resource database.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center on Innovations in Learning –

From the website: “The Center on Innovations in Learning is one of seven national content centers funded by the United States Department of Education. The Center on Innovations in Learning’s mission is to (a) increase the capacity of state education agencies (SEAs) to stimulate, select, implement, and scale up learning innovations in local education agencies (LEAs) and schools to improve learning outcomes for all students; and (b) increase the capacity of regional comprehensive centers (RCCs) to provide technical assistance to SEAs relative to the Center’s scope of responsibility.”

The CIL Resources Database has more than 600 results in a search for “Competency-Based Education” (

College & Career Readiness & Success Center –

From the website: “The College and Career Readiness and Success Center (CCRS Center) is dedicated to ensuring all students graduate high school ready for college and career success. The mission of the CCRS Center is to serve Regional Comprehensive Centers in building the capacity of states to effectively implement initiatives for college and career readiness and success. Through technical assistance delivery and supporting resources, the CCRS Center provides customized support that facilitates the continuous design, implementation, and improvement of college and career readiness priorities.”

International Association for K-12 Online Learning –

From the website: “iNACOL is a nonprofit organization with the mission to catalyze the transformation of K-12 education policy and practice to advance powerful, personalized, learner-centered experiences through competency-based, blended and online learning.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Competency based learning

  • Competency based learning policy

  • Competency education

  • Competency-based education

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.