Supporting Illinois Competency-Based Education Pilot Schools

Recently, I was fortunate to attend the Education Policy Planning Committee of the Illinois State Board of Education with EdSystems’ Executive Director Jon Furr and our incredibly inspirational Fellow Dania Ibrahim. We were there to express our support for the continuation of Illinois’ Competency-Based Education (CBE) pilot and introduce an exciting new EdSystems partnership with the Illinois Digital Educators Alliance, LEAP Innovations, LUDA, and Teach Plus Illinois called the Future of Learning Coalition. Together, the Coalition is committed to advancing innovation in Illinois schools, and the CBE pilots are squarely in that space. 

ISBE has encouraged the kinds of innovative practices that are a part of CBE in its recommendations for learning renewal. ISBE’s recent focus has been on commissioning and overseeing an evaluation to report on initial pilot implementation and outcomes in the context of its CBE pilot. Completed in February and now available publicly, the evaluation was limited in what it could confidently report for several reasons, including that the program has only been in place for a few years, the level of implementation is variable across schools, the pandemic had a tremendous impact on all schooling, and data collection has been imprecise. Still, the evaluators provided recommendations reflecting the need for continued – and more nuanced – implementation and outcome data collection, transparency, and additional support for schools and faculty.

At its August meeting, the full Board was presented with a summary of the evaluation and heard from LUDA’s Dr. John Burkey and Round Lake Schools CUSD 116’s Dr. Donn Mendoza. (You can find the presentation to the Board here.) We were appreciative of and encouraged by the Board’s engagement. We are pleased that the passed resolution extends the pilot for a minimum of three years and includes renewed support for districts, such as quarterly convenings for collaboration. We urge ISBE to go further and consider engaging national experts and external partners to help guide and implement best practices. We also agree with ISBE that well-constructed, standardized reporting procedures will be helpful in learning from the work of the pilot sites. 

We thank the Board for its attention to CBE. As the new school year begins and Illinois educators continue to address pandemic-induced and long-standing structural injustices, EdSystems and our fellow Future of Learning Coalition members are eager to work closely with ISBE to support the CBE pilot and other innovative practices that schools are implementing to promote racial and socio-economic equity.

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