FULTON, Ill. — Much of Fulton High School’s first year in the competency-based education program was spent in planning, Fulton High School Principal Bob Gosch said this month. Fulton is one of 50 schools participating in the state’s pilot program.
CBE programs assess and advance students based on demonstrated mastery of skills and knowledge, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The program allows students to earn credit toward graduation in ways other than traditional coursework, incorporates real-world knowledge and challenges and offers students career-related competencies beyond those needed to graduate, the State Board says.
Fulton will implement its ideas this fall. “It isn’t the traditional model of education,” said Gosch. “[It’s] more personalized identification” and focuses on skills rather than content.
The English department “is really taking a leadership role in this,” Gosch said. For example, students used to read a novel and discuss character development, but using the CBE method students would create a project to demonstrate their understanding of the subject.
After discussing social issues, students might create public service announcements, Gosch said. The CBE method really “gets to the meat and bones of it,” identifying why students are going to need these skills.
The program is led by Building 21 out of Allentown, PA and is based on Common Core and state standards, Gosch said. It identifies skills and “then [has] the students demonstrate that they’ve learned it.”
“We’ve done really good things,” Gosch said. “We just know our student engagement has been dropping.” Gosch thinks CBE will engage students better. “Our mindset is changing.”
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Post-secondary and Workforce Readiness Act in July 2016. According to the bill, nearly half of Illinois high school graduates enrolling as full-time freshmen in Illinois public community colleges require remedial education.
Illinois employers reported that recent high school and postsecondary institutional graduates often lack the critical skills necessary to succeed in high-demand and growing occupational areas, the bill said. Employers are unable to find qualified workers to meet industry needs.
The bill established several strategies, including competency-based high school graduation requirements pilot program, to reverse the trend.
Fulton was chosen in the third round of pilot programs, Gosch said. According to the State Board, 45 districts now participate in the program. “We visited a couple of schools that had been doing that,” Gosch said, before planning a program for Fulton.
Fulton is the only school in the Regional Office of Education #47, encompassing Lee, Whiteside and Ogle Counties, participating in the CBE program, Gosch said.
“It’s a process. This is going to take years,” Gosch said. “We’re gong to have some failures, [but] …hopefully a lot of successes.”
Schools have to change their thinking to meet future needs, Gosch said. Ten years ago developing apps was unknown, he said. “Today that’s a huge market.” Some of the jobs that will be in most demand 10 years from now don’t exist yet, Gosch said.
Assembly lines are moving to automation, but businesses still have a need for people who can solve problems and communicate, said Gosch. Creative jobs don’t go away.