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STRENGTHENING TEACHING AND LEARNING: New Hampshire’s Shift Away From “Seat Time” Offers Lessons for All States, New Alliance Report Finds

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“When people are buying a new car, they don’t ask how long it took to build,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Instead, they ask how well it performs. For too long, the nation’s education system has promoted students based on how long they spent sitting in a classroom rather than what they have learned. New Hampshire’s experience, although still evolving, holds tremendous promise as an approach for improving student learning outcomes in a system that encourages advancement by demonstrating competency instead of completing seat time.”
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For a century, most students have advanced from grade to grade based on the number of days they spend in class, but New Hampshire schools have moved from “seat time” and toward “competency-based learning,” which advances students when they have mastered course content. Strengthening High School Teaching and Learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System, a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, profiles how two high schools in New Hampshire made this shift and examines the necessary changes at both the school and in state policy. Competency-based advancement is an important part of New Hampshire’s strategy for implementing the Common Core State Standards and meeting the state department of education’s goal that every student “deserves a course of study that allows him or her to learn in a deep, meaningful, and practical way.”

“When people are buying a new car, they don’t ask how long it took to build,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Instead, they ask how well it performs. For too long, the nation’s education system has promoted students based on how long they spent sitting in a classroom rather than what they have learned. New Hampshire’s experience, although still evolving, holds tremendous promise as an approach for improving student learning outcomes in a system that encourages advancement by demonstrating competency instead of completing seat time.”

Of particular interest in New Hampshire’s move to a competency-based system are the changes in teacher and principal roles, as well as instructional practice, that are necessary for successfully implementing this rapidly emerging approach to learning. In both schools featured in the report—Sanborn Regional High School and Spaulding High School—school leaders and teachers are encouraged to become more active designers of their curriculum and of student-centered learning environments. Teachers and principals have the opportunity and time to collaborate with one another and their peers across schools and districts to share ideas and enhance their own professional development.

A move toward competency-based learning has also required the schools to redesign their grading policies and create new course competencies and assessments. Both schools have eliminated the “A–F” and numbered grading system and replaced it with ratings that include “not yet competent” and “insufficient work submitted.” Students deemed not yet competent are offered additional interventions until they reach mastery, including online tools, one-on-one teacher time, and student collaboration. Additionally, both schools have adopted unique and innovative learning approaches, such as digital learning, that create a more flexible learning schedule that extends beyond the school day.

“As more states and schools look for alternatives to traditional seat-time policies, New Hampshire’s experience provides an excellent opportunity for other states to review effective designs, systems, practices, and policies needed to ensure the capacity of teachers and leaders to implement competency-based learning for all of the nation’s students,” said Wise.

Findings from the brief were highlighted in a January 22 webinar featuring New Hampshire Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather and two educators from New Hampshire, Brian Stack, principal of Sanborn Regional High, and Erica Stofanak, curriculum, instruction, and assessment coach for the Rochester School District. Archived video and PowerPoint presentations from the webinar are available here

Strengthening High School Teaching and learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System is available here

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