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YSD1 Approved to Implement Competency-Based Education Practices by the South Carolina State Board of Education

The South Carolina State Board of Education granted two school districts in the state flexibility to implement competency-based educational practices at their monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. York School District One is proud to be one of those two districts. This flexibility provides an avenue for academic innovation, and an opportunity to maximize student learning opportunities beyond traditional practices, removing what can often become unintended barriers in meeting the unique needs of students.

“In a traditional public-school system what and where students learn and how they demonstrate mastery is often restricted by state regulations related to the school

 schedule, a student’s age, grade assignment, and even amount of time they sat in the seat in a course at the secondary level. Competency-based education provides an avenue to be innovative in the way students demonstrate mastery of content knowledge and earn credit for coursework. While there are still compliance regulations that must be adhered to, the options for maximizing student learning opportunities will now be expanded,” said Kelly Coxe, Superintendent of York School District One.

While District administrators are excited about the potential that lies ahead, it is important to note how they arrived at such a unique opportunity. Two years ago, the District engaged in a collaborative process with its stakeholders to develop their five-year strategic plan. The process also resulted in a collective desire to provide quality, personalized learning experiences for all students. The District’s state-required plan includes several quantitative goals related to student achievement, school climate, teacher quality, and the gifted and talented program. However, to summarize those efforts in a way that created a common language and collective understanding for both internal and external community members, the District created its’ public-facing Strategic Change Agenda focused on three main goals that are at the heart of teaching and learning:

Goal 1: Create a challenging and supportive educational environment that ensures readiness for all students.

Goal 2: Create quality opportunities for ongoing learning for students and staff to promote innovation and flexibility.

Goal 3: Build capacity and leadership at every level of the organization.

District leaders cite that work as the catalyst that propelled them into action and led to a focus on student-centered learning practices. “We know that our students come to us with a variety of unique skills, needs, and gifts. Our goal in York School District One is to personalize instruction in a manner that meets the individual academic needs of students, maximizes the quality learning opportunities students can receive, and allows students to demonstrate mastery when ready. This waiver provides us with the opportunity and flexibility to design a system of learning that operates without the constraints of time, pace, place, and path so that learning may occur authentically and enable students to truly discover the intersection of their strengths and passion,” said Elissa Cox, Director of Secondary Programs.

In simple terms, this newly awarded flexibility could mean that students whose schedule is restricted by scheduling logistics or limited course offerings would have an opportunity to take a course as an independent self-study, demonstrate their understanding of the knowledge learned in that course through a passion project evaluated by expert professionals and educators, and earn the credit for that coursework on their high school transcript. Imagine a student who is interested in digital art and design taking a course from an external provider on their own time, aligned to their individual interests and talents. On the flip side, a student who already has mastery of a particular area of content could have the opportunity to demonstrate understanding of that content by making a qualifying score on a comprehensive exam, leaving room in the student’s schedule to pursue additional course work that is aligned to their future goals.

District officials emphasize that the transition to implementing these types of competency-based practices will not be an overnight shift, but rather one that requires the development of a set of clearly established academic processes and implementation supports over time. While the main goal is to increase student achievement and maximize learning opportunities to ensure students’ readiness, a strategic and intentional rollout of competency-based practices is critically important.  As the shift to student-centered learning and competency-based education continues in York School District One, District officials are excited about the future possibilities and opportunities this could afford their students.

Author’s note: Lexington School District Three is the other district in South Carolina that was also granted this flexibility.