Exploring Implications for State Policy in Competency-Based Education

Exploring Implications for State Policy in Competency-Based Education
Exploring Implications for State Policy in Competency-Based Education


Internationally, leading countries have built education systems based on a competency-based education approach as opposed to seat-time requirements that we have in the United States. Currently, innovative states and districts around the country are beginning to challenge the time-based educational system that has been in place for decades by moving to a competency-based approach. A host of policies, structures, and systems must be shifted and aligned in order to implement personalized pathways and systems that call for student demonstration of mastery.

This webinar highlighted current efforts across the country, identified promising practices in states, and shared resources available for states. Kate Nielson, Policy Analyst, National Governors Association, highlighted national trends and identified major questions when considering competency-based pathways and systems. Diane Smith, Director, Teaching and Learning Initiative, Oregon Business Education Compact, and Sandra Dop, Consultant for 21st Century Skills, Iowa Department of Education, discussed how their states have conceptualized, developed, and implemented such systems. Carissa Miller, Deputy Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers, addressed how the ILN is supporting communities of practice across ILN states to implement competency-based education within their broader framework of college and career readiness and personalized learning.

Presenter Biographies

Dr. Sandra Dop currently serves as Iowa Department of Education’s Consultant for 21st Century Skills and Schools. In that capacity she works with the State Department, the Area and Local Education Agencies and Institutions of Higher Education to investigate and promote the innovation necessary to embed 21st Century Skills into the experiences and opportunities for all Iowa students.  She leads the state level work toward creating competency-based education for all Iowa students.

Dr. Dop’s experience as an educator spans thirty years and includes teaching at elementary, middle and high school, and post secondary levels as well as K-12 principal, curriculum director, and superintendent in several states and for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools.

Dop holds a BA in English Education from the University of Louisville; an MA in English Education, an MA in Educational Leadership, the Principalship, and an Educational Specialist in Educational Leadership, the Superintendency from the University of Nebraska—Kearney, and a PhD in Teaching, Curriculum, and Learning from the University of Nebraska—Lincoln.

Joseph R. Harris, PhD, Managing Research Analyst at the American Institutes for Research, has an extensive background in secondary school improvement, college and career readiness, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) reform as a practitioner, researcher and evaluator. He currently serves as Director of the College & Career Readiness & Success Center, a national technical assistance center funded by the U.S. Department of Education (USED) to help regions and states promote knowledge development and dissemination and effective collaboration among CCRS stakeholders. From 2006 to 2012, he served as the Director of the National High School Center, also funded by USED, to promote college and career readiness, dropout prevention, and integrating special and general education instruction.

From 1994 to 2006, Dr. Harris served as project director for a series of major technical assistance contracts funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in support of the Systemic Initiatives, a multiyear NSF effort designed to foster STEM education reform in more than 100 state, rural, and urban school district projects. Dr. Harris also has led numerous K–12 initiatives to improve program operations and outcomes in areas such as differentiated teacher compensation, program evaluation, student assessment, strategic planning, education policy, program equity, minority student achievement, and public/private partnerships. For the first two decades of his career he was a public school teacher and administrator and, since then, has worked in a variety of public school settings. Dr. Harris holds a B.A. in Mathematical Statistics from the University of Florida, an M.A. in Secondary Education from the Catholic University of America, and a Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park.


Carissa Moffat Miller joined CCSSO as the Deputy Executive Director in February 2013. Prior to joining CCSSO, Miller served as the Deputy Superintendent of the 21st Century Classroom Division at the Idaho State Department of Education. In this role she oversaw all assessment, accountability, content, and school choice programs. As the Deputy, Miller led the writing and negotiating Idaho’s ESEA waiver and deployment of a statewide growth model. From 2003-2005, she worked for the Idaho State Board of Education overseeing assessment and accountability during the initial implementation and deployment of statewide online testing.

Miller also has a strong background in higher education having spent four years conducting research and evaluation on federal grants at Boise State University and more than a decade working in student affairs at Marymount University (VA), the University of Wyoming and the College of Southern Idaho.

Miller has served in numerous leadership positions, including being elected and serving as the co-chair of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Executive Committee from July 2011 to February 2013, as an elected member of the Smarter Balanced executive committee from October 2010 to June 2011,  as the chair of the Education Information Management Advisory Consortium (EIMAC), past chair of the Northwest Regional Advisory Council, and as a member of the Boise State University Institutional Review Board.

Miller received a doctorate in education with an emphasis in quantitative research from the University of Idaho. She received a master’s degree in sociology with a concentration in statistics from the University of Wyoming and bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Miller lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband Clark and two daughters, Sydney and Kendley.

Kate Nielson is a Policy Analyst with the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices where she supports the Education Division’s work on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. She also leads the Division’s competency-based education work, and contributes to the resource reallocation and early childhood education initiatives.

Prior to joining NGA, Kate worked as a law clerk for the Center for Law and Education where she analyzed proposed federal legislation and as an Education Fellow in the U.S. Senate. Additionally, Kate has experience in the consensus-building field working with Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, where she led the education policy program. She holds a Juris Doctor and Master of Public Policy from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Arts from Bowdoin College.

Diane Smith is a life-long teacher, beginning her career as a play-ground monitor in fourth grade. Her 34-year public school experience spans instruction at the elementary, middle, high school and college levels. An expert in the fields of curriculum and instruction, she shared her talents as a teacher, alternative school principal and Director of Curriculum for the Greater Albany Public School District in Albany, Oregon. Diane used proficiency-based teaching and learning as a teacher, while also working as a proficiency training coach for Oregon’s Proficiency-based Admissions Standards System (PASS). She is the author of It’s About Time: A Proficiency-based Teaching & Learning Framework, currently being used by districts and classroom teachers as a self-reflection workbook.  In addition, she has authored  several reflective and research documents on proficiency. Diane has been providing professional development in proficiency-based teaching and learning for the Business Education Compact since 2007 and has held the position of Director of Teaching & Learning Initiative for the organization since her public school retirement in 2010.


Recommended Resources


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Presenter Information

Sandra Dop

Consultant for 21st Century Skills

Iowa Department Of Education

400 East 14th Street

Des Moines, IA 50319-0146



Joe Harris


College and Career Readiness and Success Center

American Institutes for Research

1000 Thomas Jefferson Street, NW

Washington, D.C. 20007



Carissa Miller

Deputy Executive Director

Council of Chief State School Officers

One Massachusetts Avenue, NW

Suite 700

Washington, DC 20001-1431



Kate Nielson

Policy Analyst, Education Division

National Governors Association, Center for Best Practices

Hall of the States

444 North Capitol St. NW, Suite 267

Washington, DC 20001



Diane Smith

Director Teaching & Learning Initiative

Business Education Compact

12655 SW Center St.

Ste. 430

Beaverton, OR 97005

503.646.0242, Ext. 28


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