Idaho House Education Committee Considers Academic Standards and Competency-based Education

At today's meeting of the Idaho House Education Committee I had the opportunity to dialogue with members about rigorous academic standards and competency-based education.  The representatives are investigating opportunities as a result of the Governor's task force on education.  Recommendations were released in September 2013 after eight months of thoughtful research and deliberation by the task force members.


Gov. Otter commissioned the task force in December 2012 with the goal of finding solutions that will ensure Idaho's students are prepared for success.  The group adopted the State Board’s goal that 60 percent of Idahoans between the ages of 25 and 34 obtain a postsecondary degree or credential by 2020.   At the time the task force was formed only 39 percent of Idahoans in that age range had a postsecondary degree or credential.  They group agreed that a vital aspect of improving K-12 education is to increase high school graduation rates with those students leaving with the skills necessary to obtain a degree, certificate or credential.  

As the work began, the members identified 5 main areas for their work including professional development of teachers and leaders, teacher effectiveness including recruitment and retention, fiscal stability, technology and structural change.  They then consolidated these into 3 remaining issues of fiscal stability, structural change including technology and effective teachers and leaders.  Building upon the task force recommendations, and at the request of the committee chairman, I spoke to the representatives about the state policy options related to high academic standards and competency-based education.

As a foundation for today's presentation, I noted that college, workforce and life readiness demands more of our students than ever before.  Remedial courses continue to be necessary before students can take credit-bearing courses in higher education.  Business and industry say they can’t fill jobs with employees prepared to think critically, communicate, problem-solve, collaborate or have a basic ability to read and write effectively.  These same skills are reported to be lacking in a college classroom as well.

The Common Core State Standards or other rigorous academic state standards will better prepare all students to be successful in college and careers through deeper, more rigorous and clearer expectations for learners.  The standards emphasize more complex content and concepts and the development of real-world skills with authentic purpose.  Ultimately this leads to job creation, economic development and prosperity for the state.  Many bills were shared with the legislators as we discussed how states are reacting to higher expectations for all students.

Also on today's agenda was a review of competency-based education across the country.  States have been reviewing the time-based system built around the Carnegie unit and many are now taking steps to go in a different direction.  Nearly 40 states are establishing some type of proficiency-based diplomas, credit flexibility, or seat-time waivers.  Some are using state policy and others are implementing pilots in local school districts.  However, innovation is key.  Even those districts that are investigating new practices, the bottom line is that state legislative language will have to remove barriers and constraints of seat-time and time-based systems prior to large scale change. 

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