Dear neighbors,

As chair of the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee in the Senate, I wake up every morning thinking about what we can do to help prepare the children of Washington for the economy of the 21st century.

I’m proud that our efforts in the Legislature — together with many teachers and administrators across the state — have made Washington a national leader in bringing competency-based, or mastery-based, instructional practices into our classrooms.

Competency-based learning is a new approach to instruction in our schools that gives each student agency over their own learning. It’s truly individualized student learning based on equity and student empowerment. It lets students progress at their own pace and learn in a way that excites them with teachers acting as mentors and guides. Students move on only when they have actually learned the material and can provide evidence of that learning.

We established the Mastery Based Learning Collaborative a few years ago to support schools wanting to shift to a competency-based system. The first cohort in this pilot was 20 schools, and just this year the program expanded to include a second cohort of another 20 schools.

I visited a few of the schools participating in the collaborative this last fall and heard directly from students how they feel about this new type of instruction. I heard that students feel they are truly learning the information rather than just taking a test and moving on to the next thing.

In one school I learned how disciplinary issues were greatly reduced because the students said they enjoyed coming to school so much they didn’t want to risk getting in trouble and not getting to come to class!

While these stories show that the schools in the pilot are making amazing strides in implementing mastery-based learning, there are still challenges ahead. Some of those challenges are related to system changes that need to happen at the state level to enable schools to pursue this type of instructional practice. That’s why I’m sponsoring SB 6264 this year. This bill starts making the state-wide changes that will pave the way to expand this type of instructional model to more schools.

In the committee hearing yesterday, we heard strong support from educators, as well as from our higher education institutions, who are seeing the difference that competency-based education makes for their incoming students.

Signing off!

As always, please feel free to reach out should you have any questions, comments, or concerns.

I look forward to hearing from you and as always I am honored to serve as your state senator.

—Lisa Wellman