7 policy moves that could transform K-12 education

District leaders can use the COVID crisis and the social justice movement to drive innovation
By: | August 26, 2020
Policymakers are being encourages to prioritize learning policies that give students more flexibility in learning and demonstrating mastery. (GettyImages/PhotoAlto-Frederic Cirou)Policymakers are being encourages to prioritize learning policies that give students more flexibility in learning and demonstrating mastery. (GettyImages/PhotoAlto-Frederic Cirou)

Alternative grading and blended, competency-based learning models are two key shifts superintendents and their teams might consider making as they lead COVID recovery in their districts.

These concepts are among the many ways district leaders can use the COVID crisis and the renewed focus on equity as opportunities to transform K-12 education, according to the Aurora Foundation report, “Education Policy Issues for the COVID-19 Era: Policy Actions and Responses to Leverage the Moment for Future Readiness.”

“We believe that flexibility for learning anytime and anywhere afforded through online and blended learning provides new ways to conceptualize how and where learning occurs, but this must be designed on a system built for excellence and equity,” the authors of the report write.

Here seven issues superintendents, state leaders and other education policymakers should prioritize this school year:

1. Moving away from seat time: Comptenency-based learning models allow students to demonstrate understanding through projects, portfolios and other assessment methods that are not tied to the amount of time they spend in class.

A growing number of states now allow for credit flexibility. New Hampshire has developed one of the most robust statewide competency-based policies with guidance from the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment and the Center for Collaborative Education.


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2. Re-examining grading policies: Competency-based learning practices can give parents a clearer picture of student progress, particularly in online learning.

District leaders shifting to standards-based learning needs to be transparent about learning expectations for each student. Keys to this approach are providing timely feedback on assignments and ensuring all students have equitable access to resources and infrastructure.

3. Rethinking assessment: Washington state is letting districts use projects, portfolios, and other performance assessments in lieu of traditional tests.

These tools allow educators to examine a wider range of evidence in assessing each students’ progress.

District leaders should consider offering professional development to build teachers’ assessment skills and piloting innovative assessment systems.

4. Examining the purpose of accountability: The pandemic has forced states to redesign accountability around a broader definition of student success.

Two examples are the California School Dashboard and Vermont’s Education Quality Standards.

5. Creating flexible graduation pathways: COVID has also forced districts to rethink how students earn credit toward high school graduation.

Washington, for example, allows districts to award credit through work-based learning and industry credentials, among other novel approaches.


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6. Ensuring all communities have the necessary technology: Many districts acted quickly to supply all students with technology but many of these initiatives, such as equipping buses with Wi-Fi routes, are short-term solutions.

District leaders must therefore press state and federal policymakers to expand and modernize Wi-Fi and broadband infrastructure in all communities.

Districts can get federal funding waivers to shift resources toward instructional technology needs.

7. Prioritizing future-readiness: To cope with future disruptions, federal officials should incentivize each state to build a statewide continuity of learning task force.

This webinar shows how Lindsay USD in California, and Kettle Moraine Schools in Wisconsin planned ahead for disruptions such as COVID.


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