Setting policy priorities for 2013 and beyond

Each year, the State Board of Education adopts a set of key education policy priorities that we intend to explore over the course of the school year. One of these important priorities this year is competency-based education, an innovative system that advances students through school based on their mastery of content rather than their age or seat time.

Competency-based education includes clear, measurable learning objectives that empower students, personalized instruction and application of knowledge, and assessments that are meaningful and positive learning experiences. We believe this is a student-centered approach to learning that will prepare our young people for success in college and in their careers.

One of the barriers to learning is that our education system’s funding and focus often are built around how much time a student sits in a seat. Competency-based education rightly turns this focus to the individual needs of students.

Competency-based education already has a foothold in Iowa. The state began to consider this approach to learning in 2009. Following the lead of the State Board of Education, a state task force began to explore how competency-based education might work in Iowa.

A lot of that exploration has taken place in the past year:

Competency-based education was introduced to many Iowans at a statewide conference last December, where educators and experts who are working in innovative competency-based education systems at the federal level and in other states discussed what it looks like in the classroom and what it takes to build such a system.

An expansion of competency-based education was a key goal outlined in the 2011 education blueprint released by Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The Legislature gave the State Board of Education authority to allow a school district or accredited nonpublic school to award credit toward graduation based upon demonstrated competencies. In the past, schools were forced to request this flexibility from the Iowa Department of Education.

The Legislature also directed the Iowa Department of Education to appoint a task force to study competency-based education. A preliminary report to the Legislature is due in January, with a final report due in November 2013.

While the transition to a competency-based education system is voluntary for Iowa school districts, the State Board of Education encourages educators, parents, and communities to embrace this model because it truly has the power to transform our education system. Your buy-in is essential to this transition. Let’s remove the barriers to learning and make room for this innovation in Iowa.

Rosie Hussey, of Clear Lake, is president of the Iowa State Board of Education.