Time-based systems, also known as “seat-time” requirement systems, still form the basis of today’s traditional schools. The prevailing assumption has been that state policies for seat-time requirements constrict schools and hinder attempts to innovate. However, far more flexibility exists than originally thought.
Furthermore, a 2019 report by ExcelinEd’s notes that 33 states and Washington, D.C., have already established general innovation or pilot programs to explore next generation learning, which includes a broad range of innovative learning models and approaches. Most next generation program statutes offer the ability for schools to apply for flexibility or waivers from policies including seat-time requirements.
Even though all states have authorized mastery-based learning to some degree, many students are not yet benefitting from this flexibility. Here are four ways states can promote mastery-based systems to increase rigor and build robust, innovative extended learning opportunities for students.
States can take action to ensure schools and districts are aware of what flexibility opportunities are available, understand how these flexibilities can be utilized and develop a process to evaluate and communicate outcomes. To address this, ExcelinEd provides recommendations in a Flexibility Guide that outlines a process for states to take action.
If mastery has already been fully authorized—or even authorized with some limitations—but the state finds that districts and schools have been slow to embrace it, there could be a need for clear guidance to explain the degree to which credit can be awarded for a students’ demonstration of mastery.
Having permission is an important step in advancing mastery-based learning, but it is just a part of what is needed from states to make next generation learning a reality. How much direction and what it could look like will vary from state to state. In Utah, for example, the State Board of Education adopted a Competency-Based Education Framework and a state Portrait of a Graduate (Talent MAP) to help support the Competency-Based Education Grant program.
Several states have some degree of ambiguity in their laws and policies. Ambiguity may be contributing to the perpetuation of the myth of seat-time requirements. It might also serve as a barrier to district action.