Research

Individual Learning Plans in High School Could Use Tune-Up

Although most states mandate the use of individual learning plans (ILPs) for their high school students, according to a new study, school personnel in charge of ILPs don't get the training they need to optimize those efforts, and few schools track what happened to the student upon graduation to understand whether or not the ILP was effective.

The survey was undertaken by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and Hobsons, a company that sells Naviance, a "college and career readiness" application. Similar studies were done by Hobsons in 2009 and 2011.

An ILP, according to the report resulting from the study, is a personalized plan developed jointly by students and school staff to help the students set goals that align with their academic and career plans. They're also known as academic achievement plans, personal learning plans, four-year plans and personal graduation plans. The most common element in an ILP is progress toward high school graduation. Three quarters of respondents (77 percent) noted that career interest was also identified. Just under half (48 percent) had students perform self-assessments of interests, strengths and aptitudes.

Every state had an initiative to promote college and career planning for high school students. However, the survey found that 29 states and the District of Columbia have ILP policies. That's the same count as in 2011, although the specific states involved have changed.

ILPs are not a new phenomenon. More than half of survey respondents with ILPs (54 percent) have been using them for at least five years; a third (31 percent) have been using them for a decade or longer.

The researchers found that a state mandate doesn't always translate into school practice. Among respondents in ILP-mandated states, nearly a third (29 percent) reported that they didn't use ILPs. Conversely, many respondents (44 percent) from states without the mandate did report the use of ILPs.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents reported setting up ILPs by eighth grade. Another 27 percent set them up in ninth grade. Only two percent of respondents indicated that ILP use started in grades 10-12.

Counselors were most likely to be tasked with the job of implementing ILPs. That was the case for 79 percent of respondents. Half the time counselors were also responsible for evaluating the ILP.

Rarely do school staff and administrators meet to review ILPs. A third of respondents (32 percent) said it never happened; 26 percent said they weren't sure if it ever happened; 17 percent said they meet once a school year; just a quarter (23 percent) reported meetings once a term or more often.

The people doing the work related to the ILP don't get much training. Only 33 percent reported receiving training in how to implement them. Fewer were trained in how to communicate with students (28 percent) or families (22 percent) about ILPs. Four in 10 people (44 percent) said they receive no training at all.

Counselors as a subset of respondents said they'd like to see early administration of ILPs, along with whole-school buy-in, improved access to technology and smaller caseloads. Schools as a subset pointed to the need for more one-on-one time between counselors, students and their families.

The researchers suggested that additional work was needed to evaluate the effectiveness of ILPs on student outcomes of college graduates. Although 62 percent of respondents "felt" that ILPs "somewhat or greatly" helped with student outcomes, only nine states have run formal evaluations on their ILPs to assess usage and completion. Just under three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents track student outcomes only through high school graduation.

As a start, the report noted, "greater insight should be gained into ILP experiences and impact before further expansion or changes are made."

The report, "Individual Learning Plans for College and Career Readiness: State Policies and School-based Practices," is available for registration on the Naviance Web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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