Special Update to a Snapshot of K-12 Competency-Based Education State Policy Across the United States

We have reached a tipping point in recognizing the potential of competency-based education (CBE) to transform K-12 education and providing policy to support these changes. As of today, all 50 states have some form of supportive policy or flexibility to allow competency-based learning. 

Today, CompetencyWorks, a project of the Aurora Institute, released the special update to the map, a Snapshot of K-12 Competency-based Education State Policy Across the United States. The map, which depicts the level of CBE policymaking in each state, was last updated in May 2019. You can download a copy of the map here.

A Snapshot of K-12 Competency-Based Education State Policy Across the United States

We have categorized the states as “Advanced,” “Developing,” “Emerging,” and “Not Yet” on the map to signify whether the state has permissive, enabling, or comprehensive state policy to advance competency-based education.

“Advanced” means that the state has comprehensive policy alignment or has established an active state role to build educator capacity in local school systems for competency-based education. 

“Developing” means that the state has open state policy flexibility for school districts to transition to competency-based education.

“Emerging” means that there is limited state policy flexibility and, usually, the state requires authorization for school systems to shift to competency-based education. 

In the updated map, there are 17 “Advanced” states (in red), 14 “Developing” states, including the District of Columbia ( in green), and 19 “Emerging” states (in yellow). 

Updates to State Categorization 

The last time we updated the map, only one state, Wyoming, did not have policy activity for competency-based education. This month we are changing Wyoming’s categorization from “no policy” to “emerging.” 

In June of this year, ExcelinEd released State Progress Toward Next Generation Learning: A National Landscape in which the state was noted for its Wyoming Trust Fund for Innovation Education. This initiative is one of the ways Wyoming is investing in student-centered learning: 

In 2014, Wyoming passed W.S. 21-22-107 to provide funds for innovation in, or improvement of public education through the creation of new, different, and improved educational opportunities in elementary and secondary schools. The purpose of the Wyoming Trust Fund for Innovation Education is to create innovative educational opportunities for public school students at all levels. Examples of initiatives that can receive grants include:

  • Technical preparation programs integrating specific public school programs with community college programs and working with business and industry to prepare students for technical and academic careers and
  • Operational initiatives such as modification to class schedules, school day, week, month or year calendar, and scheduling of extracurricular activities.

Additionally, Wyoming Chapter 31 allows for Competency-Based Equivalency Examination. Districts may use one or more assessments:

“to evaluate the degree to which a student has achieved explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that are aligned with the Uniform Student Content and Performance Standards. Such assessments may allow a student to demonstrate competency, aligned to the standards, in a variety of ways, including through performance-based assessments. Pursuant to W.S. 21-2-304(a)(iii), successful performance on a district-approved competency-based assessment may be used in lieu of a passing grade in order for a district to determine that a student has successfully completed one or more of the components that are included within the state-established Standards for Graduation.”

In November, Aurora Institute’s President and CEO Susan Patrick testified at the Wyoming Senate Education Committee on opportunities for Wyoming to advance personalized learning in K-12 and align K-12 to postsecondary pathways and workforce. 

Continuing a Nationwide Trend Toward Supporting Competency-Based Education

Since 2012, CompetencyWorks, a project of the Aurora Institute, has released an annual snapshot map of the United States, categorizing states into levels at which their policy environments and state activities support competency-based education. 

Seven years ago, far fewer states had policies to support competency-based education. As can be seen from the 2012 map below, nearly half of all states were designated as having no policies to support competency-based education. Today, all 50 states have taken steps to create space for or to support next-generation learning models.  

There is a significant trend of states creating policies to support competency-based learning across the country. Most of the work to create personalized, competency-based learning environments takes place within local school systems. However, when there is synchronization between policy and practice and when there is collaboration between policymakers and local school leaders, widespread transformation can take place. Students can access educational opportunities that will enable them to succeed in higher education, in the workplace, and in life.

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Natalie Truong is Policy Director of the Aurora Institute.

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