The State of Competency-Based Education Legislation

While 42 states allow competency-based education, a few of them are working on more advanced policies or trying to provide flexible learning opportunities for more schools.

by / March 25, 2016
Florida Governor Rick Scott visiting the Broward Tech school. Office of Governor Rick Scott

Most state legislatures have broken down barriers to competency-based education, but they still have work to do. 

Forty-two states now provide flexibility for schools that want to try competency-based education, which measures learning by student mastery of concepts rather than by the time students spend in class, according to iNACOL, a nonprofit that advocates for personalized learning that's competency-based, blended and online. This month, two states sent bills to their governors' desks that could help advance competency-based education in their schools.

"Over the past 10 years, a lot of the focus has shifted from legislation to actual policy making so that state boards of education and state departments of education have the policy authority that they need to make the changes happen," said Susan Patrick, president and CEO of iNACOL. 

Initially, states allowed schools to apply for waivers that freed them from measuring learning by seat time, Patrick said. Three to five years later, states created flexible credit provisions that allowed schools to measure student learning by time or mastery. Now states have leveled up to stage three, where they're establishing pilots, grant programs and other support for competency-based learning.

Take Florida for example. It's actually lagged behind other states, but could move up to level 3 now that Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 1365 on Friday, March 25, Patrick said. The state had previously allowed Florida Virtual School to start a competency-based education system and use a different funding model, she said, but school districts still had to meet seat time requirements. 

Now Florida's new law, sponsored by Rep. Ray Wesley Rodrigues, establishes a competency-based education pilot that five advanced schools and districts can apply for: the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, and school districts in Lake, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Seminole counties. The Florida Department of Education will run the pilot for five years starting in 2016-17. By June 1 each year, the department will send a report on the pilot's progress to government leaders and recommend changes to existing education law. 

"They might be further behind, but they're getting ready to leapfrog so that some of the school districts can move ahead," Patrick said.

Utah has already worked hard on competency-based education, and this year, it sent an advanced policy bill to Gov. Gary Hebert. S.B. 143 from Sen. Howard A. Stephenson creates a competency-based education grant program that would provide incentives for local education agencies to shift to this model. It also directs higher education institutions to accept high school diplomas from students who advanced based on mastering competencies.

While states have made great progress in passing competency-based legislation, change won't happen until local school districts start taking advantage of the freedom that these laws provide, Patrick said.

"Just because the state passes a law doesn't mean that it's automatically going to scale across the state," Patrick said. But it's a good start. 

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.