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Utah Makes Dramatic Progress Implementing Next Generation Learning

• Karla Phillips

Utah’s steady journey toward next generation learning took another step forward last month.

The state announced the recipients of the Competency-Based Education Planning Grant program. Seven school districts and charter schools will form the first cohort of the state’s competitive competency-based learning pilot program—and will have the chance to apply for an additional $2 million dollars lawmakers appropriated this year for future implementation grants.

  • American Academy of Innovation
  • Davis School District
  • Duchesne School District
  • Iron County School District
  • Juab School District
  • Logan City School District
  • Murray School District

“The legislature is committed to ensuring there are no barriers standing in the way of Utah’s innovative leaders as they strive to meet the needs of all students and ensure they are truly college and career ready,” explained Utah State Senator Ann Millner.

This commitment has opened the door for these local education agencies (LEAs) to pursue new student-centered approaches to learning.

“We are excited for a competency-based structure allowing educators to work 1-on-1 with students to truly personalize their education, no matter their ability or prior knowledge in the content, whether they need credit recovery or access to early college,” said Cory Henwood, Digital Media, Teaching and Learning Coordinator for Iron School District, in a Utah State Board of Education press release.

He added, “by highlighting their interests and focusing on the essential skills, hands-on projects, and business and tech partnerships with local post-secondary and industry partners, learning will become more relevant and empowering for students to better meet the needs of ALL Iron County Students.”

Lifting the Cap

Utah has been working toward this important step for years.

In 2016, the state established the Competency-Based Learning Grant Program to offer competitive planning grants to support LEAs in their planning for systemic change to transition to competency-based education. But the program was capped at just three grants.

In 2018, however, the legislature removed that cap and paved the way for more pioneering school districts and charter schools to explore new ways to personalize learning and prioritize students.

Utah’s Framework: The Utah Competency-Based Education Framework was adapted from the LEAP Personalized Learning Framework and was developed utilizing feedback from 14 Utah districts and charter schools that were involved in the exploratory pilot. The framework incorporates the Utah Effective Teaching Standards and Indicators as elements to define a comprehensive approach to competency-based learning for schools.


Looking Forward

Undergirding Utah’s transition to next generation learning is the development of the Utah Portrait of a Graduate, which will redefine the education system’s goals and identify the knowledge and skills graduates should possess. This project is currently available for public feedback prior to State Board review in May.

Utah lawmakers and the State Board of Education have taken a deliberate and thoughtful approach to implement competency-based education and improve the state’s education system as a whole. These actions will, no doubt, inspire other states and benefit schools, educators and students across the nation for years to come.

About the author

Karla Phillips

Karla is Policy Director for Next Generation Learning at ExcelinEd. Previously, she served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent of Policy and Programs at the Arizona Department of Education. Karla also served as the Education Policy Advisor for Governor Brewer and as the Vice-Chair of Arizona’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Her experience includes serving as Director of State Government Relations for Arizona State University (ASU) and as a senior policy advisor for Arizona’s House of Representatives. Karla received her B.A. from Indiana University and an M.P.A from Arizona State University.