States Consider Competency-Based Learning—But Mostly for Adults

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — June 20, 2017 2 min read
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Three states considered bills that would have enacted competency-based education policies in 2016, and five considered such bills in 2017, according to a new report from the Education Commission of the States.

A number of states (including New Hampshire) and districts (including Chicago) are using or contemplating competency-based learning in K-12 schools. A group of prestigious private high schools recently began pushing for colleges to accept competency-based high school transcripts, which highlight students’ skills and accomplishments instead of more-traditional grades.

But the state legislatures seem to mostly be contemplating how to use competency-based education to serve adults. Lexi Anderson, the report’s author, notes that states’ competency-based education bills mostly target the growing population of people over 25 who are enrolled in postsecondary education.

"[C]ompetency-based education serves to award credit/degrees to students for meeting specific skill competencies agreed upon by faculty, industry leaders, and workforce representatives,” she writes. “This innovative delivery model could create greater access to postsecondary education for returning adults, low-income students, and working adults needing additional skills.”

States are contemplating significantly different uses of competency-based education: For instance, California’s Assembly Bill 2419, considered in 2016, would have created a new state institute of higher education that issued credits based on examinations and would not have offered instruction at all. That bill failed.

The Virginia bill, on the other hand, targeted just early-childhood education teachers: It created a competency-based education pathway for these educators. That more-focused bill passed.

Utah’s Senate Bill 190, which was enacted, does target K-12 schools: It incentivizes public schools to work with a state STEM group and other partners on K-12 computing programs.

There are reasons to beware some competency-based education initiatives in K-12 schools: In May, for instance, Slate highlighted how some online credit-recovery programs, which also focus on passing exams rather than on offering instruction, allow students to click through coursework and seem to breed isolation.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.