Reflecting on the Fall Conference Season: We See a System Where Students Tell Their Own Story

For many of us, competency-based learning (CBL) is a familiar term with many variations, including mastery-based and proficiency-based learning. Though these terms may mean slightly different things, they share a common root: the belief that students have different interests, strengths and areas for development and that education should not be about grades and schedules, but rather, about supporting students to apply knowledge and skills, and to ultimately write their own story. Done well, CBL enables more equitable learning so all students can realize success according to what they are interested in and care about. For the past seven years, GOA has led our own student program through an implementation process to ensure all of our high school courses are aligned with CBL practices. Additionally, we have led professional development for dozens of school teams on the what, why, and how of CBL so that educators can make shifts in practice, elevating skills that transfer across disciples and ensuring student agency.

This past fall these ideas drove both Aurora 2023 and the 2023 Mastery Symposium.

During both conferences, we were struck by the evolution in the field, as well as the different complexities at various stages of implementation and progress. We were inspired by schools, districts, and states at each stage. It’s hard to track all of the good work, so we thought we’d elevate the following:


Western Placer Unified School District, a rapidly growing region northeast of Sacramento, is in the early stages of developing a Portrait of a Learner to guide its education system and community. GOA has partnered with the district to lead the process of developing a portrait of a graduate with their team and community. During their presentation at Aurora 2023 the district offered a clear overview of the process and how they engaged their stakeholders to name the traits that reflect the values and aspirations of the community. Reach out to us if you’d like to learn about developing a Portrait of a Learner process grounded in community.


Washington State’s Mastery-Based Learning Collaborative will soon announce its second cohort of member schools and is an important example of culturally responsive-sustaining education (CRSE) that is being prioritized and intentionally integrated to create more accessible, equitable, and personalized learning environments.


Having developed its Essential Eight to localize Utah’s Portrait of a Graduate, Iron County School District is working to support every teacher in developing the capabilities and capacity to support competency-based learning in their classrooms and schools. This includes flexible professional learning opportunities via GOA’s Center for Professional Learning and incentive pay tied to demonstrations of completion and understanding.

These are a small sampling of initiatives and potential thought partners as well as a roadmap for states to advance Mastery Learning. Who would you elevate and share as potential points of connection? We’d love to see your insights - share with us @GOAlearing on or email us at

For more, see:

GOA serves students, teachers, and leaders and is comprised of member schools from around the world, including independent, international, charter, and public schools. Learn more about Becoming a Member. Our professional learning opportunities are open to any educator or school team. Follow us on LinkedIn and X. To stay up to date on GOA learning opportunities, sign up for our newsletter.

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