Report: Shift to ESSA Can Bring Personalized Learning into Focus

Now that more control over education decisions is being handed back to the states with passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), they need to be "thoughtful" in how they design their education systems to make sure every student's growth is taken into account, said a new report by an education organization that advocates for personalized learning.

Non-profit KnowledgeWorks promotes a number of school reform efforts, including competency-based education. The new report, "Recommendations for Advancing Personalized Learning Under the Every Student Succeeds Act," explores areas of "high-leverage opportunities" where personalized learning can be brought to the forefront as states undertake teaching and learning changes.

The organization is especially sensitive to the need for using personalized learning to close "achievement gaps" that exist among "traditionally at-risk student populations," the report stated.

"Personalized learning can help close achievement gaps by identifying individual student needs and customizing instruction to ensure every student succeeds. Equity is foundational to the success of this approach," said KnowledgeWorks President and CEO Judy Peppler in a prepared statement.

The report examines five areas in particular:

  • Systems of accountability;
  • School improvement;
  • Assessment;
  • Educator workforce; and
  • Extended learning.

Within each area, the report offers recommendations as well as guiding questions for state decision-makers and district leaders covering three "overarching concepts" that can help ensure quality: college and career readiness, equity and continuous improvement.

For example, in the area of accountability, the report suggested that states develop new systems that take into account several best practices:

  • Inclusion of indictors to motivate schools to adopt personalized learning strategies;
  • Emphasis on "growth to proficiency" measures to identify where students are in their "learning trajectory" and setting goals to keep them progressing;
  • Balancing accountability needs across levels — federal, state and local;
  • Tracking of student progress in ways that help teachers modify instruction and continually improve their own approaches; and
  • Continually improving the accountability system itself to sustain reform efforts.

The organization also recently released a side-by-side comparison of ESSA to No Child Left Behind, which examines the differences between the two education laws through a "personalized learning lens."

"The 391 pages of ESSA are full of opportunities to make personalized learning a reality for every student in the country," added KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy, Lillian Pace, in the same statement. "Stakeholders should take advantage of these opportunities to carefully consider and re-imagine systems of teaching and learning under the new law."

The report is available on the KnowledgeWorks site with registration. The ESSA and NCLB comparison is freely available for download.

About the Author

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