New Hampshire’s Shift Away From “Seat Time” Offers Lessons for All States, New Alliance Report Finds
WASHINGTON, DC – For a century, most students have advanced from grade to grade based on the number of days they spend in class, but in New Hampshire, schools have moved away 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 changes that were necessary to make competency-based advancement an important part of New Hampshire’s strategy for implementing the Common Core State Standards and ensuring that students graduate ready for college and a career.
“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 to successfully implement this exciting new 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 reimagine their grading policies and create new course competencies and assessments. For example, 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 they use to 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 featured in a webinar on January 22 at 2:00 p.m. (ET) featuring New Hampshire Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather and two educators from New Hampshire. Archived video from the webinar is available here
Strengthening High School Teaching and learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System is available here
The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC–based national policy and advocacy organization that works to improve national and federal policy so that all students can achieve at high academic levels and graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship in the twenty-first century. https://all4ed.org.