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Building Momentum for Innovation through CBE

Southeast | May 02, 2024

Building Momentum for Innovation through CBE

Over the last year, the North Carolina Competency-Based Education (NC CBE) partnership has continued to use the CBE Mastery Framework to support administrators, educators, and students in implementing Competency-Based Education. The NC CBE Partnership, formed in 2022, allows space for educators and other careholders to collaborate, share successes and challenges, and expand implementation of CBE throughout the Southeast. The past year included several meetings centered around components of the CBE Mastery Framework – which features Structure, Culture, Teaching and Learning as drivers for change in how schools approach education and student growth. Additionally, the NC CBE Partnership sponsored a special event held at RTI International on February 22, 2024 – Building Momentum for Innovation through CBE.


The January 2023 NC CBE Partnership meeting began a year-long focus on components of the CBE Mastery Framework. The first discussion was on Structures that enable and support CBE. Members had a chance to hear from guest speakers Stephanie DiStasio (SC), Adam Hicks and Jennifer Cox (KY), and Derek Distefano (NC). Ms. DiStasio highlighted the efforts in South Carolina to implement their statewide graduate profile and to use pilots and focused professional development to create state-level structures to support CBE and personalized learning practices. Dr. Hicks and Dr. Cox shared the district-level professional learning and feedback process in Shelby County, KY. And Mr. DeStefano added the school perspective in sharing about the CBE journey for Morgan Elementary School in North Carolina. All speakers focused on the importance of putting structures in place that could support educators, students, family members, and the community with understanding and supporting CBE.


The April 2023 Partnership meeting's focus was Culture, and attendees heard from guest speakers Eliot Levine, Research Director at the Aurora Institute, and Tom Klapp, Director of Personalized Learning at Northern Cass Public Schools in North Dakota. Dr. Levine shared insights on how several schools around the country are successfully adapting their culture to accommodate CBE principles. The discussion referenced a 2023 study "Investing in Adolescents High School Climate and Organizational Context Shape Student Development and Educational Attainment" to talk about the importance of school culture in implementing innovative strategies like CBE (Porter et al). Dr. Levine then talked about the positive role of school culture from his own experiences teaching and recent visits to CBE schools across the country. Mr. Klapp shared specific strategies used in his PK-12 district to encourage all staff and students to make CBE part of their culture, and shared areas where they faced challenges in their CBE integration.


July's Partnership meeting focused on Teaching and featured Erin Johnson of Crosstown High School in Memphis, Tennessee and Dr. Brian Kosena of Westminster Public Schools in Westminster, Colorado. Many schools face challenges in obtaining teacher buy-in when deciding to move toward a CBE-based curriculum. When attendees were asked to provide three words to describe teachers' role in CBE, they collectively offered coaches, thought leaders, encouragers, champions, listeners, and learners. The guest speakers shared their journeys with CBE in their careers, and ways they helped teachers adapt their approach and work through challenges with implementing CBE. Dr. Kosena shared how Westminster Public Schools have adapted and incorporated Marzano principles to their learning model, which includes 5 areas: Leadership, Shared Vision, Learner-Centered Classroom, Continuous Improvement, and Competency-Based Design. These principles are from the framework in Marzano's book, "The New Art and Science of Teaching." Dr. Kosena described their learning model at all levels (elementary through high school). Both speakers encouraged discussion from attendees and provided support and answers to questions.


Featuring a student panel, Learning was the topic of October's Partnership meeting. North Carolina students from the Northeast Academy of Aerospace and Advanced Technologies (NEAAAT) and Morgan Elementary. Students from both schools shared their experiences having choice and voice in their learning opportunities. Through these added responsibilities, they also learned to advocate for themselves and communicate more effectively with their coaches and teachers. School leaders shared how they are personalizing learning opportunities for students.

2024 Partnership Focus and Event

January's meeting included NEAAAT students who shared what they learned from a recent trip to Philadelphia, where they visited several schools implementing CBE. In addition to sharing what they learned, they also discussed how these lessons contributed to their development of NEAAAT's Portrait of a Graduate implementation plan. The NEAAAT high school students will discuss their findings with the rest of the NEAAAT community. The students' trip and subsequent conversations are illustrative of CBE's student-centered and student-based focus. January's partnership meeting concluded with a problem of practice discussion about how to begin implementing CBE and necessary structures to have in place. Each partner shared ideas, challenges, and potential solutions based on their experiences with CBE implementation.

The NC CBE Partnership hosted an event, Building Momentum for Innovation through CBE on February 22 at RTI International in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The event challenged participants to think about how their work could support efforts to build the evidence for education innovations like CBE. The current evidence base includes studies like "Measuring student progress and teachers' assessment of student knowledge in a competency-based system" from REL Central (2017) and "Looking Under the Hood of Competency-Based Education" from American Institutes for Research (2016). But we know schools, districts, and states are looking for more ways to share successes and build on existing evidence to further their work in CBE.

Our featured keynote speaker was Dr. Matthew Soldner, Commissioner of the National Center for Education, Evaluation, and Regional Assistance in the Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. He engaged all 57 meeting participants in a discussion around the current state of CBE in states and schools, and how researchers and policymakers could support the advancement of CBE for students. He spoke about how he sees the potential of CBE in addressing many of the current trends in education that indicate declines in student learning over the last several years, referencing 2022 NAEP data noting declining scores in reading and mathematics at grades 4 and 8.

Dr. Andrew Smith, Assistant State Superintendent, Office of Innovation in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Ms. Julie Noland, Director GRE4T Initiative at the Georgia Department of Education, and Ms. Stephanie DiStasio, Division Director College & Career Readiness in the South Carolina Department of Education contributed to a panel discussion, sharing their states' efforts in growing CBE. And participants got to hear about CBE challenges and successes from Dr. Andrew Harris and Ms. Caren Williams of NEAAAT and Mr. Derek DiStefano of Morgan Elementary School, school leaders of two exemplars of CBE implementation in North Carolina.

Participants spent the final 45 minutes of the event engaging with 34 students from NEAAAT, who prepared 19 presentations as individuals or small groups. The students proudly answered questions about their projects and experiences as NEAAAT students. These discussions left participants feeling inspired and motivated to continue building momentum toward the promising practice of widely implemented competency-based education.

To learn more about the NC CBE Partnership, or the work of the REL Southeast, please contact the Partnership Director, Laura Knapp at

NC CBE Partnership


Brodersen, R. M., & Randel, B. (2017). Measuring student progress and teachers' assessment of student knowledge in a competency-based education system (REL 2017–238). 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

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

Marzano, R. J. (2017). The New Art and Science of Teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Porter, S.C, Jackson, C.K., Kiguel, S. and Easton, J.Q. (2023). Investing in Adolescents: High School Climate and Organizational Context Shape Student Development and Educational Attainment. Retrieved from

2022 NAEP Mathematics Assessment Highlights and 2022 NAEP Reading Assessment Highlights


Laura Knapp

Laura Knapp

Kayla Siler

Kayla Siler

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