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Overview of selected state policies and supports related to K–12 competency-based education

by Helen Apthorp, R. Brodersen, Katie Mason, Jennifer Piscatelli and David Yanoski

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. The following are appended: (1) Data and methodology; (2) Summaries of policies and supports associated with competency-based education in advanced competency-based-education states; and (3) Policies in each competency-based education category, by state.

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