States experimenting with competency-based education model to individualize learning experience

Stateline Midwest ~ 2013 MLC Annual Meeting Edition

Picture a school system with no credits, no grades and no educational units.
And rather than graduating from high school after passing a certain number of courses over a set period of time, a student instead demonstrates proficiency in an agreed-upon set of skills and academic content. Sandra Dop of the Iowa Department of Education calls this vision a “CBE utopia.”
“CBE” stands for competency-based education, and while states may never reach or even want to reach this “utopia,” the idea of providing more pathways and individualized instruction to students is gaining more interest among state leaders.
“We live in a competency-based world,” Dop said during a July 14 session of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Education Committee. “Nobody cares what you know. … They care about what you can do with what you know.”
In 2012, the Iowa legislature passed a bill (SF 2284) eliminating the credit hour as the sole basis for students to earn credit toward a high school degree. Local educators can instead offer the opportunity to advance toward a degree via a competency-based model of instruction.
For example, one student may advance quickly through Algebra I and move on to the next skill, while a peer would be given more time and help.
Earlier this year, Iowa further advanced the use of CBE with passage of HF 215, under which up to 10 schools will receive grants to incorporate the model.
In Ohio, a state credit-flexibility plan allows students to earn credits outside the classroom — through internships, community service, or online or independent study. In Michigan, seat-time waivers are given to schools that provide access to online learning or blended instruction (a mix of online learning and face-to-face interaction with a teacher).
At the committee meeting, Ohio Sen. Peggy Lehner said she is hearing from more local educators who believe adding a fifth year of high school for some students would improve graduation rates and college and career readiness.
Michael Cohen, head of nonprofit educational group Achieve, said such ideas are an implicit part of CBE.
“But don’t merely add time and costs,’’ he said. “Find efficiencies [such as earlier graduation] as well.”