News Local/State

New Pilot Program Brings Competency Learning To Urbana High School


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Urbana High School is a participant in a new statewide pilot program that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge through practical applications inside and outside the classroom.

Urbana District 116 is one of 15 school districts in Illinois involved in the state's Competency Based High School Graduation Requirement Program. Samuel Byndom, assistant superintendent of student learning for the district, said the program brings more opportunities and choices to high school students. The goal, he said, is to tailor a curriculum to a student’s interests and skill level, while also making them more attractive college and job candidates through independent study and real-world learning experiences.

“If we’re able to do the program right, we could have students that are leaving with a high school diploma and an industry recognized credential,” he said.

For example, students could graduate with a nursing certificate, auto mechanic credential or an associate’s degree. Byndom said some students excel in traditional classroom assessments but may not have the skills necessary to practically apply their understanding. Other students, he said, may struggle on exams, but they can adeptly apply their knowledge in a hands-on environment. He said the goal of the program is to combine both traditional and competency-based assessments and learning strategies to meet students on an individual basis.

The district has partnered with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Parkland College and Carle Foundation Hospital, among others, on the pilot program. The Illinois State Board of Education has not provided the district with any additional funding, but Byndum said the state agency will offer guidance to Urbana school officials as they implement the pilot program.

With independent study and off-campus learning options, students won’t be as limited by class scheduling conflicts, Byndum said. While the competency curriculum will be guided by teachers, the learning will be student-led, he said.

“It’s putting students in the driver’s seat of being able to make more choices about what type of learning opportunities they would be interested in,” Byndum said.  

He said teachers and administrators are currently working on the curriculum. The program will be available to an estimated 150 students at the high school this fall, according to Byndum. In the meantime, the district plans to educate families about the pilot program. He hopes the program will be available to all high school students sometime in the next two or three years.

Districts participating in the statewide initiative include Rantoul Township High School District 193, Peoria School District 150 and Kankakee School District 111, among others.