(From left to right) Asst. Supt. Nicole Howard, Proviso East Principal Patrick Hardy, State Supt. Tony Smith and D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez. | Photo provided

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has selected Proviso District 209 to be one of 10 participating schools in a new competency-based learning pilot program.

Proviso East High School will be the first Proviso school to implement the program, beginning at the start of the 2017-18 school year. Competency-based learning, advocates say, offers more flexibility than a traditional curriculum and gives students a more personalized education. A design team of Proviso teachers and administrators is still working out the details. But district officials did confirm there will be several “demonstration classrooms” in the fall, where competency-based learning will be phased in by teachers.

“The purpose here is to provide learners multiple pathways to demonstrate learning,” D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said April 7. “It empowers them to take ownership of their own learning.”

The competency-based program will, according to an email from district spokesperson Cynthia Moreno, have “opportunities beyond the customary high school classroom so that students may gain access to advanced postsecondary and career-related competencies. Opportunities will include job shadowing, independent studies, internships, advanced placement studies, and post-secondary planning.”

Rodriguez said the district’s goal is for all Proviso East freshman to be using a competency-based model in the 2018-2019 school year. Eventually, the entire three-school district will incorporate competency-based learning.

“You’re looking at four to seven years before full implementation,” Rodriguez said.

The pilot program announcement came in an April 3 press release from Illinois State Superintendent Tony Smith.

“The way we prepare students for college and career must evolve if we want to fuel a thriving economy and healthy communities,” Smith said in the press release. “When students leave our schools, they should leave with the keys to open multiple doors, any of which can lead to a successful future.”

The competency-based model, according to the U.S. Department of Education, “allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning.”

“Under a traditional system, it’s very easy to pass a class with gaps in proficiency,” said Nicole Howard, a D209 assistant superintendent. “If you do all your homework and classwork, you can still pass the class. With competency-based learning [more is required].”

For now, Illinois legislators have not allocated any funding for the program. But Rodriguez, who would not estimate a total program cost, said that shouldn’t be a problem. The district will use professional development funding already approved.

“We don’t see it as an unfunded mandate,” Rodriguez said. “We see it as an opportunity. We wanted to do it anyway.”

Both Howard and Rodriguez stressed the competency-based program, just like the current traditional curriculum, would be developed to comply with Illinois high school graduation requirements and would be accepted by higher education institutions.

D209 plans to have meetings with the community and parents to help explain the program later in the year.