Nearly 40 percent of college freshmen in Ohio need to take remedial courses because they are unprepared for college-level work.  The total bill for remedial classes in 2009 came to $130 million, rising to $147 million in 2010.  Remediation is most costly to students who take longer to complete their degrees and are more likely to drop out.

Ohio’s adoption of the Common Core signals recognition that the state can no longer endure minimum standards for learning and expect students to be successful.  The Common Core will provide a sound basis for what students should learn—and competency-based learning (CBL) models can help ensure students advancing through the system have mastered necessary content and skills. In a new brief, State Strategies for Awarding Credit to Support Student Learning, the National Governors Association (NGA) suggests among its recommendations that states award credits and fund providers based on student competency in order to increase college and career readiness.

Competency-based learning models represent a systems-based yet personalized approach to education.   Students advance upon demonstrating competency of certain skills or knowledge instead of by seat time or other methods.  At the time Ohio’s design team crafted its famed Credit Flexibility policy, there were at least six other ways to defy seat time on the books, but CBL is not the absence of seat time (explained best in this iNACOL/CCSSO report).  The architects of Ohio’s credit flexibility policy wisely noted that most states already had provisions permitting flexibility that were not widely used.  Credit flex would be a critical path forward for early adopters, but as in New Hampshire, substantial change will not occur at scale.   Schools will need to be required to offer competency-based credits and provided with systemic supports.

When leveraged with digital learning, CBL’s potential is amplified as it becomes easier to accelerate students who are ready to move on, and easier to identify and support students who need extra time, tools or instruction to reach success.  With upcoming online assessments, students can take tests at any time, as many times as needed and be credited for the portions of knowledge and skills they demonstrate. Ohio should look to Florida Virtual School or again to New Hampshire for its Virtual Learning Academy Charter School for inspiration.  Both are designed to provide students with a personalized education through a competency-based approach to learning with funding tied to demonstration of mastery.

Ohio’s Digital Learning Task Force has the opportunity to recommend—and legislators the opportunity to adopt—a next generation learning system by making a statewide shift to competency-based learning models.   At the very least, policymakers could immediately direct Ohio’s new iLearn platform to require courses based on competency-based learning approaches and fund courses based on student completion.  Policies for demonstrating knowledge and funding performance will help ensure our system is designed for personalized learning.

With support, educators can shift from a flat and linear notion of standards-based learning to complex tasks and community-based experiences based on mastery of 3-D clusters of related standards that could cross and challenge Ohio’s separate K-12 and university systems.

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