States Need To Rejigger Policies for Competency Ed To Flourish

If states are serious about implementing competency-based education in the hope that it will prepare students for college and career, policy makers had better be ready to update their rules and regulations, according to a new report by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).

The 13-page document outlines five areas of focus for policy change.

Creating competency-based education systems. This calls for scrutinizing "state laws, rules and regulations" to redefine credits as competencies aligned to state learning standards; base student progression on mastery of competencies vs. the amount of time a person spends in a classroom; redesign state systems of assessments to support competency learning; and create a proficiency-based diploma.

Improving student access and equity, in particular to blended and online learning opportunities. As the report noted, this recommendation especially applies to "students in rural, urban, and underserved communities," who are in more urgent need for access to expanded course offerings. Funding should be the same for blended learning as it is for "brick-and-mortar settings," the authors stated, and per-pupil funding formulas should be "weighted" for schools to be able to provide resources needed by at-risk students, those with disabilities and English language learners.

Measuring and assuring quality "from inputs to outcomes." The report explained that new learning models require "high-quality providers" whose courses and curriculum align with state standards and can be measured for their effectiveness on student learning. That requires providers to be transparent about how they evaluate program outcomes and student success. The recommendation also calls for states to develop "objective quality review processes" to ensure that online programs and courses adhere to state academic standards and standards of quality.

Supporting innovative educators. States should consider establishing "innovation zones" to encourage teachers and administrators to try out new models of education, which means freeing them from certain regulations and requirements and making sure their schools get the technical help and resources they need. Innovation also calls for ample professional development related to implementing competency-based education.

Supporting new learning models through connectivity, data systems and security. Delivering personalized, mastery-based online instruction assumes that students and teachers have access to high-speed broadband connectivity and computing devices. State data systems need to be able to collect data for improving accountability and measuring impact on student learning made by new modes of instruction. States also need to develop a charter that lays out appropriate data usage practices.

"We present these recommendations with the understanding that each state starts from a different place, with its own unique context," said report co-author Maria Worthen, who serves as iNACOL's vice president for federal and state policy. "This shift, however, cannot be sustained without changes in state policies across the country. Laws, rules, and regulations written in the analog era must be adapted to support new digital learning models."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.