Burgum signs ‘pathways to graduation’ bill, providing flexibility to promote personalized learning

K. William Boyer
Devils Lake Journal

 By: Mike Nowatzki and Mike Kennedy

BISMARCK – Gov. Doug Burgum signed legislation that caps a four-year collaborative effort to pave the way for authentic learning and flexibility in pathways for North Dakota students to achieve graduation.

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“Senate Bill 2196 is a monumental victory for North Dakota students, opening the door for school districts to design student learning that recognizes space, place and time not as barriers but as levers to transform how we deliver a world-class education to all students,” Burgum said. “This could not have happened without the partnership with teachers, administrators, and legislative and executive branch leaders to be a voice for change. We’re deeply grateful to the bill sponsors and the House and Senate members for their support of this legislation.”

Senate Bill 2196 was introduced by Sen. Donald Schaible and co-sponsored by Sens. Kyle Davison and Erin Oban and Reps. Pat Heinert, Cynthia Schreiber-Beck and Denton Zubke. It received overwhelming support in both chambers, passing the Senate 46-1 and the House 90-2.

Creating personalized graduation pathways to complement the traditional credit-hour K-12 education system was the No. 1 recommendation provided by the Governor’s Innovative Education Task Force, which Burgum formed through executive order in September 2017. The 15-member task force included legislators, teachers, administrators and other K-12 education stakeholders who met 10 times over the course of 14 months and endorsed a dozen policy recommendations, including creating the K-12 Coordinating Council that meets quarterly.

“A student’s ability to learn is not completely dependent upon how much time he or she spends sitting in a classroom,” said State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, who served on the task force. “This bill offers flexibility to our students to achieve other academic goals and methods of learning after they’ve mastered a subject. It allows for more personalized education. And it does this while maintaining academic strength and accountability.”

The legislation provides the state the flexibility to recognize a certified learning continuum as a rigorous, personalized pathway for students to demonstrate knowledge, skills and understandings beyond the traditional learning model.

“Senate Bill 2196 is a landmark piece of legislation for the state of North Dakota,” said Cory Steiner, Northern Cass School District superintendent. “It will allow districts to personalize the learning experience and create a system which values every learner as an individual. This bill is historic and will allow our state to truly build a learner-centered model of education.”

Four school districts currently participate in systemwide transformation through a partnership with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and the nonprofit KnowledgeWorks.  The Northern Cass, Oakes and West Fargo school districts and the Marmot School at the Youth Correctional Center in Mandan are leading these efforts to inspire change and promote student-centered practices through the development of a learning continuum.

Under SB 2196, all school districts will be provided the opportunity to propose and adopt a mastery learning framework policy that awards students the credits necessary to graduate from high school through demonstrated mastery of learning continuum competencies.

“Senate Bill 2196 has the power to enrich our learners like we’ve never done before. It will allow us to help curb the mental health crisis that continues to grow at a faster and faster rate across the country by connecting learner interest and passion with real and relevant work,” said Travis Jordan, superintendent for Beulah Public School District. “It was remarkable to see business leaders and other industries work together with school officials to provide a pathway for growth not only for our learners but our communities as well."

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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