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Competency-Based Learning: Definitions, Policies, and Implementation

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Research Alliance: Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance

Principal Investigator: Aubrey Scheopner Torres

Overview: Many states in the Northeast & Islands Region have increasingly begun to view proficiency- or competency-based learning (P/CBL) as a way to boost graduation rates and prepare students for success after high school. In P/CBL approaches, students demonstrate mastery of a defined set of proficiencies or competencies in their courses in lieu of completing credit requirements based on time spent in class. Although many states in the region are adopting P/CBL policies, full implementation of this reform is still in progress, and more information is needed to help states define P/CBL, inform their policymaking, and effectively confront barriers to and leverage facilitators of implementation. With support from the Northeast College and Career Readiness Alliance (NCCRA), REL Northeast & Islands researchers studied how P/CBL is defined across New England and identified perceived challenges to and supports affecting its implementation. The findings provide information for states to leverage policy change and guidance for how to support districts and schools as they implement this reform. 

The study addresses three research questions:

  1. How is competency-based learning defined in state and district policies in the REL Northeast & Islands Region?
  2. How is competency defined by the states and districts within the region? What are the requirements for demonstrating mastery of competencies that lead to credit toward graduation? 
  3. What are the perceived barriers and facilitators for implementing competency-based learning in states and districts?

The study team reviewed state legislation and education policies related to competency-based learning and graduation requirements in the seven northeast states in the REL Northeast and Islands Region. In addition, the team interviewed state administrators in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. They also interviewed district or school administrators in these states who had implemented competency-based learning and those who had considered but not yet implemented it. 

View the report.

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