SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) today shared the Request for Applications for school districts to join the third cohort of the Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program. Accepted applicants would join
19 other school districts currently improving college and career readiness through this growing national movement.
17 states, including Illinois, now have comprehensive policy alignment and/or an active state role to build capacity in local school systems for competency-based education, according to the advocacy organization iNACOL. Forty-nine states have flexibility for local school systems to shift to competency-based education. Illinois lawmakers recently amended the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act to expand access to the pilot to all school districts serving all grades and to allow groups of school districts to join together to apply as collaboratives.
"Our pilot districts are making bold shifts to re-engage high school students in their learning," said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith, Ph.D. “Districts in Illinois are becoming leaders in this exciting national learning transformation. Every community should be thinking about how competency-based learning can make high school more relevant to students and employers."
Competency-based education allows students to learn outside of the classroom and to have that learning count for credit. Students work at their own pace toward demonstrating mastery of "competencies" – specific skills and knowledge – rather than logging hours in seats.
Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in Chicago Public Schools 299 joined Illinois' pilot in the first cohort in April 2017.
“Students are starting to talk about needing to demonstrate mastery," said Brooks Principal Shannae Jackson. “They'll say, 'This is exactly what I need to do. This is exactly the learning target or standard I have not demonstrated mastery in so I need to do more practice work or go into tutoring.' They can articulate those things clearly. You can hear the language change in the hallways. They're like, 'I'm going in for the retake for the formative. Have you reached mastery yet?' That's because that is the discourse happening around the building."
Organizing learning into competencies and levels of mastery creates more transparency for students, families, and educators to understand exactly where each student is in their learning. The focus on mastery better prepares students for success in more advanced work.
“In years past, students who received a C in freshman math, for example, were then going on to fail sophomore math," says Julia Ciciora, a science, technology, engineering, and math teacher who is also the Academic Center department chair and competency-based education instructional support lead at Brooks. “My students are assessed on standards and they know what those standards are. They know what the expectations are. This last year, our big push was rubrics and being transparent with what mastery looks like."
Read more about Brooks' competency-based education program on ISBE's new Stories portal at
School districts participating in the pilot will design their own competency-based education system with support from national experts and with input from local stakeholders. The pilot provides a community of practice and knowledge-sharing around innovative performance assessments, scheduling, teacher collaboration, and technology.
Districts may access the application, as well as a library of research and resources, at www.isbe.net/competency . Applications are due to ISBE by Dec. 7.