Student Pathways & Progression - Challenge Map
Challenge Map

Systems Change

Student Pathways & Progression

The Challenge

In addition to personalizing learning for students at the classroom level, many districts are facing systems-level challenges related to implementing new competency-based progressions throughout K-12 schools. Districts are working on curriculum alignment so that students can advance according to their mastery of subjects, as opposed to a linear progression through grade levels based on age. Districts struggle to provide pathways for students beyond standard sequences of required courses; they lack student-centered, modular ways for individual learners to advance through their education with a new system.

In the Words of District Leaders

We've been doing curriculum alignment for a while and the biggest problem is the K12 continuum. We can do things at the elementary, we can do things at the middle, and we can do it at the high school. So we have solid pieces in each one of the places. The issue that we have is aligning it K12.

“We’re leaning heavily into how do we move into a competency-based progression, and what does that mean from the awarding of grades, or when does a course end type of thing. So those problems of practice, I think, are very much going to be shared if anyone’s moving in that direction. Even policy language around that, and what does that mean.”

Ideas from the Field

  • Pathways that lead to specific career areas – like cybersecurity, or various healthcare fields – are one emerging trend that allow districts to partner with post-secondary institutions and/or local businesses.
  • Another approach involves completely rethinking what student progression looks like by doing away with age-based grades and classrooms in elementary school.
  • One initiative combines personalized learning concepts with pathways, so that students progress along a chosen pathway at their own pace. Rather than all students addressing certain competencies each semester, each student works on what they need to master at their own pace. Similarly, some schools are embracing competency-based curricula that don’t dictate whether Algebra takes one, two, or three semesters; student demonstrate the required competencies on their own schedule.


Check out the following research-based resources for more information about student pathways and progression:

Competency-Based Policies and Pathways: Lessons from Colorado and Illinois – From Achieve, this paper discusses considerations and recommendations identified from ongoing competency-based pathways (CBP) work and highlights strategies and actions that will enable CBP and college- and career-ready expectations to occur simultaneously with a particular focus on CBP-enabled graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems.

Levers and Logic Models: A Framework to Guide Research and Design of High-Quality Competency-Based Education Systems – From CompetencyWorks, this paper provides a framework to build a deeper understanding of competency-based education.

Competency-Based Pathways – From Achieve, this infographic shares the stories of three students whose academic progress has been shaped by the opportunities, flexibility and transparency of competency-based learning environments.

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