Today, Juab School District in rural central Utah has a 97% graduation rate, among the highest in the state.
That’s a 5% percent increase from 2011, but for Royd Darrington, the district’s assistant superintendent, the graduation rate is more than just a number.
It means that more of Juab’s students are choosing to stay in school. He thinks it’s a result of an approach to personalized learning that the district of 2,587 students began to take about seven years ago.
“They would drop out, they would quit, they would leave because they were frustrated. They felt defeated,” Darrington said. “They didn’t feel like they had a place in the education system or rather the education system didn’t have a place for them.”
Juab School District set out to create a space for all its students using an approach commonly known as competency-based education.
It’s an approach where students are allowed to advance at their own pace as they master a skill or concept in the classroom — regardless of their peers’ progress, said Sarah Young, an implementation coordinator at the Utah State Board of Education. Aside from traditional letter grades, under this approach, students can also demonstrate their knowledge with projects, science labs and internships.
It’s a system that’s caught on at six other school districts that received grants of up $100,000 from the state Board of Education to implement this system in their classrooms.
State lawmakers approved an additional $2 million in funding this past legislative session for the grant program, Young said.
“There’s getting to be more and more research and more and more evidence to support the work we are doing we are doing but we kind of stepped out into this world saying, ‘Hey, we believe this is what’s best for kids,’” Darrington said.
A new report by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, ranks Utah as a leader in advancing competency-based education because of the state’s policy and role in facilitating this learning system in the state. iNacol is an organization that advocates for this kind of learning.
“We’re excited about just about the policy recognition, but what we are truly excited about is seeing learning change to better meet the needs of our kids,” Young said.
At Juab School District, where about 40 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, assistant superintendent Royd Darrington is hopeful that this personalized learning approach can remove some educational barriers that students previously faced.
We want to make sure that we are giving them every opportunity to demonstrate what they know and they how they know it,” Darrington said.