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District of Columbia Provides Opportunity for Schools to Pursue Competency-Based Models

Thursday, March 17, 2016
Supports High Schools in Providing New Options for Coursework to Meet Student Needs

Media Contact: Fred Lewis, [email protected]; (202) 412-2167

To support high schools in better meeting the learning needs of students, the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) will amend District regulations to waive the Carnegie Unit requirement for schools that are interested in pursuing competency-based learning courses.

The DC State Board of Education convened a 25-member task force in fall 2015 to recommend potential changes to the current system in which students are awarded credit. Composed of teachers, principals, community members, business leaders, DC Council staff, and DC education leaders, the task force conducted research and considered options for providing flexibility in the awarding of credit to support student mastery of course content and recommended policy changes. The board approved OSSE’s proposal in a resolution that passed on March 16, 2016.

“This change eliminates a barrier identified by schools and gives them greater flexibility to target students’ educational needs,” said State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang. “The change is about creating equity throughout the District and giving a greater number of students the opportunity to master and demonstrate mastery of the content they need to be successful in college, careers and life.”

The change to regulations, which will be implemented by schools starting in the the 2016-17 school year, would allow for a waiver process for high schools to develop and implement one or more competency-based courses. It maintains Carnegie units as the default means for earning credit. The change also removes the requirement that students enroll in Algebra I by ninth grade. Students now will be able to take Algebra I by 10th grade, unless the school is granted further flexibility through a waiver.

Currently, high schools in the District organize class schedules around the Carnegie unit, which requires 120 hours of class or contact time with an instructor during the school year. This change would allow District public high schools to apply for a waiver from the Carnegie unit requirement to award a competency-based unit or units for one or more courses. To gain the waiver, schools would apply to the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) or the Public Charter School Board (PCSB), with applications from charter school submitted through the local education agency.

In competency-based learning, schools develop courses in which students are able to pace their own learning, choose how they acquire skills and knowledge, and demonstrate mastery on an ongoing basis.

The regulations recognize that while the Carnegie unit ensures that each student is offered a standard minimum number of course hours, it falls short of addressing the needs of all students. Some students, for example, may need more time to understand course content or benefit from the opportunity to take part in a course that integrates content from courses that are traditionally offered separately.

The 25-member High School Credit Flexibility Task Force developed recommendations for the revision to the regulations met from August to December 2015. The State Board of Education approved a resolution adopting the task force’s recommendations and advising the State Superintendent to promulgate rulemaking on Dec. 15, 2015. Proposed regulations was published in the D.C. Register for a 30-day public comment period on Jan. 22, 2016. The final resolution was approved by the State Board of Education after three public hearings and three working sessions that began in January.