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March 6, 2019

MSU, State partner to study competency-based education

Michigan State University researchers will help the State of Michigan develop a new student-centered approach to learning with a $1.5 million in private grant funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Seven Michigan school districts are piloting competency-based education, or CBE, programs, which give students individualized support and opportunities to advance based on their own levels of mastery.

Michigan's Department of Education is partnering with the Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative, or EPIC, to study how those districts implement the concept. Research will include surveys of parents, teachers and students, as well as classroom observations and assessments of overall patterns and trend data.

“Innovative methods of teaching help address the individual learning styles of students,” said Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles. “Keeping students engaged in a manner that aligns with their style of learning will drive achievement and help Michigan become a Top 10 education state in 10 years.”

The project is part of EPIC and MDE's ongoing strategic research partnership, intended to provide the state with evidence to help inform and improve policy and practice.

By conducting research in close collaboration with state officials, EPIC helps educators and policymakers learn more quickly how education reforms are working, as well as why and for which students and teachers. CBE is a key strategy in the state's plan to make Michigan a Top 10 education state in 10 years.

“We are thrilled to work with MDE and the seven pilot districts to better understand how CBE is being implemented and the successes and challenges of this approach,” said Katharine Strunk, co-director of EPIC and the Clifford E. Erickson Distinguished Chair in Education in MSU’s College of Education. “There is a lot of rhetoric but very little evidence about the details and efficacy of CBE. We applaud MDE for asking the tough questions early in their process.”

The seven school districts—Alpena, Armada, FlexTech High School-Novi, Fraser, Kenowa Hills, Schoolcraft and Tecumseh—each received a share of $500,000 in competitive state grants to use competency-based learning in classrooms. Efforts include implementing competency-based curricula; developing formative assessments; providing professional development for teachers; and building partnerships with business and community members.

In addition to conducting research, the project will help train local administrators and educators to develop local student assessments tailored to CBE systems. With the competency approach, grades are based on confirmation that students have mastered key concepts and skills, and not rely on tests or homework alone.

“This effort is an exciting example of what is possible when researchers are able to work in partnership with state and local educators to ask questions that are immediately relevant to the work of educating kids,” said Deputy State Superintendent Dr. Venessa Keesler. “That is the kind of work we have seen the Hewlett Foundation supporting for years. We are thrilled to be engaged in this project.”