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    From Cracking the Code: Synchronizing Policy and Practice for Performance-Based Learning

    The federal government will need to work alongside states as traditional accountability models are challenged and student-centered innovations take their place. Gene Wilhoit noted that “There is a major issue between state accountability and the federal requirements for AYP [adequate yearly progress] and end-of-year assessments. Breaking through what we have as preconceived notions on state accountability, and understanding what we can do to open up next generation learning and new models of accountability, is difficult but possible.”

    At the Competency-Based Learning Summit, Jim Shelton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Innovation at the U.S. Department of Education, noted that the most important role for the federal government is to ensure that it does not put up barriers for state policymakers. Shelton said, “The reality is that most of the policy framework set is at the state level.” He went on to propose that “the growth model starts to move to a world to support competency-based work...The question is, how do states, districts, and schools respond to the flexibility in the framework? Can we get ‘out of the box’ of what we know so well in terms of age-based, end-of-year assessments?”

    State leaders will need to encourage the federal government to create space for states to innovate by engaging in the conversation supporting new accountability systems and competency-based learning as a way to help transform the system. Ideas for how the U.S. Department of Education could play a meaningful role generated from the Summit included:

    •  Integrating Competency-Based Learning into Major Policies: In each of the areas of the federal blueprint for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), reauthorization should be considered, especially including competency-based learning approaches as a model for turning around low-performing schools. In large programs, like Race to the Top grants, including competency-based learning as a design element, is an important factor in creating space for innovation at the state and local level.
    • Eliminating Time-Based Regulations: The federal government can examine their policies to ensure that they are not embedding expectations that are age- or seat-time-based. Shelton specifically asked for feedback from states to identify any federal barriers that limit states’ ability to innovate using competency-based learning approaches.
    • Changing Roles of Educators: Acknowledging that the federal highly qualified teacher provisions are deeply rooted in age-based, time-based, and student grade-level structures requires rethinking educator effectiveness around competency-based learning.
    • Assisting in Creating Innovation Zones and Capacity: Federal grant programs could help states in establishing state and district pilot programs, technical assistance providers, research, and development grants to help break open the opportunities for states to develop competency-based learning policies.
    • Providing Political Cover: The “bully pulpit” and federal competitive programming grants can spark innovation while also providing a national policy environment supportive of states engaging in early stages of the work.

     
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