Earlier this summer, the International Association of Online K-12 Learning, better known as iNACOL, released its most recent map displaying the implementation of statewide K-12 competency-based learning policies across the nation. The map now shows 17 states that have reached an advanced level of implementation with comprehensive policy alignment and/or an active state role to build capacity in local school systems for competency-based learning.

Another 14 states have been categorized as developing, with the remaining ones at the emerging level. In this version of the map, Wyoming is the only state that has yet to begin any level of statewide work in this area. This current map is in stark contrast to the 2012 map, which listed just three states at the advanced level.

Several advances have been made since iNACOL last published a map in 2018. California is one state that has been on the move this past year, moving from the “not yet” to the “emerging” category.

This reclassification is due in large part to a commitment at the state level for innovative learning models. As part of its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plan, California has rolled out a dashboard system that allow communities to define measures of success for their schools and hold themselves accountable to them.

Michigan is another state that has made a big move — from “emerging” to “developing.” Competency-based learning is listed as part of Michigan’s Top 10 in 10 strategic plan initiative. Michigan State University has stepped in to study the state’s competency education pilots that are now happening in various school districts around the state.

Competency-based learning, which is sometimes referred to as mastery learning, proficiency-based learning, and, to a lesser degree, standards-based learning, received its first official definition from Chris Sturgis, who identified five tenets for competency-based learning in schools today:

  1. Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.
  2. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  3. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  4. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  5. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of resources to be found that can support educators who are looking to start or advance the competency-based learning model in their school. Many of these are resources are offered through the website CompetencyWorks, by iNACOL.

As an early adopter of the model, I have had the opportunity to share my experiences with other educators who are on similar journeys or looking to start one. The biggest question I get is “Where do I start?”

To help answer this question, in 2017, a colleague and I created a competency-based learning school design rubric as a tool that educators could use as their roadmap. In it, we broke down each of Sturgis’ five tenets into indicators and described what these would look like at an initiating, developing, and performing level in schools.

The rubric can be downloaded as a free resource here and is part of our latest book entitled "Breaking With Tradition: The Shift to Competency Based Learning in PLCs at Work."

You can start by using the tool to perform a self-assessment, taking note which indicators and tenets your school may already be doing beyond the initiating level. These can serve as your leverage points to build momentum for your work. You can then use the tool to develop a three- to five-year strategic plan for your work, identifying where you want to be and what it will take to get your school community there.

Recognize that you can’t accomplish everything in one year and you may not finish in five years, either. The reality is your journey may never end, and you may find that you end up in uncharted territory. That’s OK.

It just means that there are new maps to be written, and you’ll have your opportunity to contribute to a movement that is transforming schools from coast to coast. These efforts may help move all 50 states to the “advanced” categories in the years to come!