For Immediate Release
Friday, November 18, 2016

Illinois’ first competency-based learning pilot launches with call for applications

Pilot program will allow 12 innovative school districts to replace high school graduation course requirements with a competency-based learning system

Illinois’ Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program, administered by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), launched today with a call for applications from school districts serving grades nine through 12. The 12 districts ultimately selected for participation in the state’s first competency-based learning pilot will replace select high school graduation course requirements with an alternative system of the district’s design. In competency-based learning, educators assess and advance students based on demonstrated mastery of specific skills, abilities, and knowledge, rather than on time in the classroom.

“We know our students are coming into high school with so many assets and experiences that we haven't figured out how to access. This new opportunity to work on competency-based learning will help students share those strengths and get more specific support where they need it. Illinois is taking a giant leap forward in meeting our students where they are and better preparing them for the future,” said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith, Ph.D. “The Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program provides schools and districts the opportunity not only to adapt classroom instruction to the individual student but to personalize each student’s entire pathway through high school. This pilot encourages community partnerships and customized learning to support individual students’ interests and needs. ISBE hopes to learn from the pilot about the potential of competency-based learning to improve student outcomes on a large scale.”

Illinois Public Act 99-0674 (the “Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act”), passed unanimously by both legislative houses and signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner on July 29, established the Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program as one of a number of strategies to prepare more students for meaningful career opportunities.  ISBE consulted with the Illinois Community College Board, Illinois Board of Higher Education, representatives from higher education, and national experts on the development of the pilot.

The competency-based learning systems proposed in districts’ applications must have students:

  • Demonstrate mastery of all required competencies to earn credit.
  • Demonstrate mastery of adaptive competencies (foundational skills needed for success in college, careers, and life, such as, but not limited to, work ethic, professionalism, communication, collaboration and interpersonal skills, and problem-solving) defined by the school district, in addition to academic competencies.
  • Advance once they have demonstrated mastery.
  • Receive more time and personalized instruction, if needed, to demonstrate mastery.
  • Have the ability to attain advanced postsecondary education and career-related competencies beyond those needed for graduation.
  • Be assessed using multiple measures to determine mastery, usually requiring application of knowledge.
  • Be able to earn credit toward graduation requirements in ways other than traditional coursework, including learning opportunities outside the traditional classroom setting, such as supervised career development experiences.

Districts interested in applying for participation in the pilot program may access the application online and must submit completed applications to ISBE no later than Jan. 27, 2017.

“The work of other states, districts, and schools around the country has allowed us to glimpse what’s possible through competency-based learning,” said Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Jason Helfer, Ph.D. “From deeper integration of technology, to better utilization of teacher talent, to an all-around more relevant learning and skill-building experience for students, competency-based learning has the potential to reinvent the way we prepare students for college and career. ISBE encourages districts of all shapes and sizes to apply.”  

ISBE will provide an online library of research, pilot program implementation plans, and models to support future replication, as well as technical assistance and networking opportunities to districts participating in the pilot.

Districts will not receive special or additional state funding to apply for, develop, or implement the pilot program.