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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

A Vision for Personalized Learning in Massachusetts

Below is an excerpt of our recently released white paper, A Vision for Personalized Learning in Massachusetts. You can read the full white paper here. 

Massachusetts is at a turning point. The state has long been viewed as a leader in education reform across the nation, sitting atop National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores in Reading and Math for a number of years. Yet, there are growing signs – within state and national education trends – that point to the fact that the state’s current education system does not serve many students well, and the outlook does not look better for the future.

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Stubborn Achievement Gaps.
As measured by 2015 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, Massachusetts has some of the largest achievement gaps by race, income, and language in the nation. These gaps are also reflected in multiple state indicators of student achievement and engagement, with wide disparities by subgroup in suspensions, graduation, and college-going. All told, the current educational system in Massachusetts is not succeeding at closing considerable achievement gaps.

Changing Student Demographics. Over the last 20 years, the percent of White students of the total state student population has declined by 21%, while the percent of Latino students has doubled and the percent of Asian students has grown by over 60%. Simultaneously, the percent of low-income students has grown by over 50%. Essentially, our student population today represents more low-income students, English learners, immigrants, and students of color than any time in past decades.

Evolving Notions of What Is Important to Know and Be Able to Do. At the same time, our future graduates will be expected to not merely retain facts and formulas, but to think critically, problem-solve collaboratively, and innovate creatively. Importantly, these are the skills that standardized tests are least effective in assessing, rendering our state accountability system outdated and in need of substantial reform.

​This is where the movement toward personalized learning enters the picture:

Personalized learning tailors the educational experience for every student by embracing individual strengths, needs, interests, and culture, and elevating student voice and choice to raise engagement and achievement. Essential Personalized Learning (EPL) takes place within the context of educational equity, providing culturally responsive learning environments and equitable educational opportunities for all students.  (CCE 2017)

CCE’s Five Principles of personalized learning to shape schools of the future:

  • Competency-based LearningAll students demonstrate the achievement of broad learning targets.
  • Authentic LearningStudents engage in workplace, project-, and community-based learning
  • Flexible LearningLearning happens inside and outside school walls
  • Student-driven LearningStudents exercise voice and choice in their learning
  • Dispositions for Learning: Students develop habits for academic growth and preparation for life
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Lessons on Personalized Learning

Massachusetts' increasing student diversity is unmasking the urgent need to differentiate our practices and how we organize our schools. We must embrace personalized learning in our classrooms, empowering teachers to work with students to craft individual pathways that meet students’ needs and interests through endeavors that engage them in real-world learning. 

In embracing a transformational personalized learning agenda, there are several lessons CCE has learned:

Scaffold full integration of all Personalized Learning principles school-wide. While many schools transitioning toward Personalized Learning embrace one particular principle, the eventual confluence of all principles has the greatest potential to produce radical schoolwide results. Alternatively, incrementalism, or the adoption of one or two PL principles without setting an upfront vision of whole-school scaling of all the principles, can lead to stalled efforts and lackluster, disappointing outcomes.

Be attentive to equity and cultural competence. In a true personalized learning school, equity in opportunity and access is paramount to attaining equity in learning; every student is provided high quality instruction, curriculum, and academic support. Inattention to equity can lead to personalized learning pathways which resemble much-maligned tracking (or sorting students into courses of varying rigor based on perceived ability).  

Time to collaborate. Whether it be transitioning to competency-based progression, designing high quality performance assessments, or embedding out-of-school learning experiences into the curriculum, school cultures and practices don’t change without substantial time freed up for the adults in a school to plan, design, and reflect on their craft.

Use technology in ways that promote authentic learning.  Technology is a tool, that when used to promote deeper learning skills such as research, evaluation, synthesis, analysis, investigation, communication, and collaboration, can be useful. However, in many cases, technology-embedded instruction merely replicates traditional methods, such as replacing written quizzes with online ones or worksheet packets with online “playlists.”

Ensure that schools have needed autonomy with shared decision-making to bring about radical change. Transforming to a true personalized learning model oftentimes requires substantial change in staffing, budget, curriculum, assessment, professional development, use of time, and governance. Shared decision-making leads to more sound decisions, greater ownership, increased trust between administration and faculty to innovate, and stronger fidelity of implementation.

Scaling Pl 01

As a movement, personalized learning holds great promise. Audacity need not be the enemy of the practical. By drastically reshaping our ideal schools to better represent the “educational hubs” that support personalization, we open more possibilities than we close. By following this roadmap, Massachusetts can more genuinely be a beacon of progressive education, ensuring equitable excellence for all its students.

The above is an excerpt of our recently released white paper, A Vision for Personalized Learning in Massachusetts. You can read the full white paper here

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