Districts 300, 207 join state program to revise graduation requirements
Six more Illinois school districts are joining a state program to test competency-based high school graduation requirements.
Among the newcomers are Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 and Maine Township High School District 207. They join Huntley Community School District 158 and Round Lake Area Unit District 116, which were among the first batch of 10 school districts chosen for the statewide initiative to revise high school graduation requirements so students are better prepared for college and careers.
Competency-based learning means educators assess and advance students based on demonstrated mastery of specific skills, abilities and knowledge instead of merely classroom time. Educators are seeking a shift from the traditional learning model of students cramming information each class period, being overburdened by assignments and homework, and tests and letter grades determining their futures.
At District 207, roughly 1,500 students in sophomore English classes across the district's three high schools this fall will have more control over what they read and how they demonstrate mastery of materials, which could be in the form of papers, presentations and different forms of assessment.
"(Giving) students a lot more options in how they show their learning, that's a big part of the competency piece," said Shawn Messmer, District 207 assistant superintendent for curriculum and innovation. "Hand in hand with choice, students can then move through our curriculum at their own pace. They can move on to the next thing rather than wait for the entire class.
"It's more skills-based. They take the assessments when they are ready. It really is about personalizing learning in a way for students that keeps them engaged, gives them support and pushes them forward when they are ready to move forward."
Teachers will receive training and officials will study this approach next year before full implementation in the 2019-20 school year, Messmer said.
Districts participating in the pilot program will meet this summer to receive coaching from national experts and share best practices. This school year, participating districts developed unique strategies for implementing competency-based learning and teaching through creative use of technology, assessments, staffing, schedules, and local partnerships.
District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid hopes to learn from first-year pilot districts and take advantage of the state's resources and supports.
"They may have facilitators, special conferences ... that's primarily our interest in participating in the pilot," Heid said. "We do not have a vision for where this will go, other than we are excited for the opportunity."
Heid said nationwide there are numerous competency-based learning models to engage students and make learning more relevant.
"Research is showing students are coming disengaged at a very early age," Heid said. "There is a really unique opportunity here in competency-based learning for us to get at what we've always struggled with in differentiation. The student and the parent are part of this.
"There is a shift in ownership ... in accountability. And teachers get to do what they should be doing: facilitating learning and not just directing learning."