New Report Offers State Policy Examples for Personalized Learning

West Virginia revised its policies to allow for basing high school course credit on "mastery" of a subject, but, first, the district has to get approval from the board. Since 2002 Oregon's administrative code has allowed schools to award academic credit based on mastery rather than "seat time" as long as the student can pass an appropriate exam, provide evidence of mastery through a collection of work or documentation of prior learning experiences or completes classroom or equivalent work that measures the proficiency.

Both of these states have already taken steps in their regulations and policies to allow for competency-based education (CBE) in K-12. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) would like to help other states do the same, so it has issued a new report that provides policymakers with examples to guide their efforts in advancing personalized learning environments.

iNACOL is a non-profit organization that promotes improving education through individualized instructional practices, such as competency-based, blended and online learning. Personalized learning tailors learning for each student, based on his or her needs, strengths and interests and puts the student in the role of helping to develop specific goals and expectations for achievement. Assessment of mastery is also tailored to the student.

The timing for "Promising State Policies for Personalized Learning" is astute. As iNACOL explained in the report, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December means everything is up for grabs. ESSA gave states far greater latitude in developing systems of assessment, some of which may take the opportunity to create assessment structures that account for personalized learning.

Currently, the report noted, states fall into one of three buckets: those that are just getting started; those that are already piloting competency-based personalized programs; and those that are mature in their practices.

For those states just getting started, the report offers examples of several "promising policies" to concentrate on:

  • Creation of "competency-based education task forces" charged with identifying the barriers and policy issues needed;
  • Support for new systems of assessments and next generation accountability models;
  • Establishment of "innovation zones" to give districts room to try out new learning models that don't fit within state policies and requirements;
  • Set-up of pilot programs and planning grants to support personalized, competency-based learning models; and
  • Creation of policies that accommodate multiple ways for students to earn credit and graduate.

For states that are already testing the CBE waters, iNACOL offers these policies to consider:

  • Implementation of proficiency-based diplomas;
  • Support for new models of assessment and next-generation accountability; and
  • Creation of state-level initiatives and partnerships to develop educator and school leader capacity to implement personalized learning.

In the final category, the report promotes the idea of a "comprehensive statewide policy" that pulls all the previous policies into a "coordinated system" to move every school to the personalized learning model. These policies may include (but not be limited to):

  • A baseline of flexibility to allow districts to award credits on mastery;
  • Creation of multiple pathways to graduation, higher education and careers;
  • Implementation of proficiency-based graduation requirements;
  • Use of personalized learning plans for all students;
  • Build-up of educator and school leader capacity;
  • Rethinking of systems of assessments;
  • Redesign of accountability for continuous improvement; and
  • Alignment of data systems with student-centered learning.

While individual districts and schools are making "incremental shifts" to personalized learning, the report concluded, putting state support and policies in place will give students "life-changing learning opportunities that prepare them to succeed in higher education, flourish in a 21st century workplace and participate effectively as citizens." As the authors stated, "Moving beyond incremental change to whole-system transformation is not only important; it's possible and essential."

The report is freely available for download on the iNACOL website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.