Illinois High Schools to Explore Competency-Based Graduation Rules

By Catherine Gewertz — April 03, 2017 2 min read
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High schools from 10 school districts in Illinois have been chosen to participate in a pilot project to revamp graduation requirements so they’re based on academic mastery rather than on seat time.

The schools are the first group to participate in Illinois’ “competency-based high school graduation requirements pilot program,” which was created by a 2016 law. State Superintendent Tony Smith announced the project’s first cohort on Monday. He lauded the project as a way to personalize learning and make sure students are ready for college when they finish high school.

Each district will have to come up with a system that will allow students to earn credits at their own pace. They’ll also have to figure out how to gauge students’ mastery of academic content and skills. It means that students will be able to advance when they’ve learned the required content and skills, and that they’ll spend more time—and get more personalized help—until they do so.

Six Chicago high schools, and schools from nine other districts, will participate in the pilot program. They have created planning committees that will conduct community outreach as they develop their plans.

Each district is approaching the pilot a little differently. They described their plans in an overview posted on the state board’s website. Chicago plans to emphasize customized learning instruction and will develop new proficiency rubrics to use instead of grades. East Saint Louis School District 189 said its competency-based work will be largely for acceleration and “learning recovery.” Huntley Community School District #158 said its one pilot high school will emphasize having students acquire “independent learning behaviors and skills” in addition to subject mastery.

“Huntley High School’s pilot will attempt to break down the walls of the traditional classroom and allow students to progress at a personalized pace. Teachers will guide their progress and offer seminar-like instruction, allowing students to demonstrate mastery of learning standards across subject areas rather than completing courses,” the district’s summary said.

The Illinois State Board of Education said in a press released that the state has not appropriated funding in the current fiscal year for the pilot, but has requested $1 million for the 2018 fiscal year. It will allow additional districts to apply later this year to become part of the pilot’s next cohort.

For more stories on competency-based learning, see:

Photo: Getty Images

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.