Brief: Here's How State Accountability Systems Can Cover Personalized Learning

Brief: Here's How State Accountability Systems Can Cover Personalized Learning

With the latest round of feedback from the U.S. Department of Education to states that have submitted their ESSA education plans during the second round, new approaches for accountability are sprouting out all over the country, but perhaps without sufficient innovation. A recent "issue brief" from, iNACOL, a nonprofit promoting online education, offered recommendations for policymakers who want to encompass personalized learning and competency-based education in their accountability systems. Seeking openness and the capacity for continuous improvement are at the top of the list.

The accountability system is a plan developed by each state to track numerous measures, such as how students perform on state tests in math and English language arts; graduation rates; the format for state "report cards," which publicly grade each school based on how well it serves its students; and other indicators defined by the state that go beyond academic performance.

In iNACOL's report, "Rethinking State Accountability to Support Personalized, Competency-Based Learning in K-12 Education," the organization asserted that the "prevailing approach" to accountability systems "is based on compliance" — sorting and identifying the lowest 5 percent of performing schools in each state, based on "narrow, time-based metrics of student achievement."

A "next-generation" version of accountability would incorporate features that would allow the system to be "adaptive, iterative and continuously improving." For example, teachers would be able to use the system to "know where students are in their learning regardless of grade level" and inform them when they need to step in with "effort and resources" to help the students as they need it. The system would also use multiple measures to address the different reporting needs of the state, the school, the community and other stakeholders.

The brief included a five-point action plan to help states move toward the creation of a student-centered learning system. Among the steps:

  • Redefining student success not by grades but by the knowledge and skills they need for success in college and career;
  • Figuring out the measures to be used by the system, with an emphasis on openness, timeliness of data and the ability to identify schools that need to improve in order to deliver the support and resources required to accomplish that;
  • Delivering educator professional learning that covers the tenets of continuous improvement;
  • Creating a culture of "reciprocal accountability," in which each level of the education structure — states, districts, schools, teachers and parents — commits to being responsible for its piece of the learning puzzle; and
  • Moving away from one-size-fits-all plans and emulating accountability systems that serve as models.

Regarding those accountability systems already in play, the brief reminded readers that states can submit a request to the Department of Education to amend their plans "at any time."

The brief is openly available 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.