Personalized Learning

Report: States Play Big Role in Helping Districts Personalize Instruction

Scaling up the practices of personalized learning from "pilot" stage to school-wide implementation requires heavy doses of vision in decision-making, a culture of innovation and risk-taking and a willingness to be transparent in dealings with the school board, unions, parents and others as the program unfolds. Those are the broad conditions necessary for implementing "student-centered" teaching and learning, according to extensive research by KnowledgeWorks. But alongside district work, there's much that states themselves need to do to remove regulatory and policy barriers that stand in the way of districts being able to grow their personalized learning programs.

KnowledgeWorks promotes competency-based education and early college high schools alongside creation and delivery of tools, training and assistance to schools that wish to adopt personalized learning practices. A new report from the organization funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation extends previous work to create a framework through which schools can transition to the system-wide use of personalized learning to help their students be better prepared for college and career.

"A State Policy Framework for Scaling Personalized Learning" calls for states to examine what they can do to help their districts, whether it be funding state grant programs, developing a state waiver process or building in flexibility in order for districts to be able to implement the conditions to scale up their personalized learning environments.

According to the report, states should give districts five years to flesh out and implement their personalized learning visions and offer a one-year conditional approval in order to kick off the planning effort. During each of the five years, the framework advises a particular stage of the work to be in process.

  • Year one: Planning and development;
  • Year two: Submission to the state by the district of an implementation plan. After final approval is granted by the state, implementation begins;
  • Years three and four: District-level implementation continues and evaluation criteria is monitored; and
  • Year five: Implementation continues and the district develops a long-term sustainability plan.

Flexibility is a watchword. For example, personalized learning calls for implementation of a comprehensive assessment system with formative, interim and summative assessments to monitor student progress and adjust day-to-day learning activities. In Oregon, the report noted, students are given multiple opportunities to show their mastery; that includes being able to take statewide assessments many times if needed.

Another condition of successful scale-up of personalized learning is the need for a district to offer a professional development program that fosters a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement while using technology to customize that training for each teacher and make it available any place and anytime. In Michigan, the report noted, teachers have flexibility in how they earn professional development credits.

"By adopting this state policy framework, states and districts will be empowered to overcome barriers of a system that was designed for a time that has long since passed," KnowledgeWorks President and CEO Judy Peppler said in a prepared statement. "Only then will we be able to ensure every student can experience meaningful personalized learning that enables him or her to succeed."

The report is available for download on the KnowledgeWorks site.

About the Author

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