Sunday, April 24, 2016

Personalized Learning under ESSA? Here’s one idea.

Guest Post by Lillian Pace, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is just over four months old, and it’s already dominating national, state, and local conversations about education reform. There is certainly a lot to get excited about in the new federal education law, including a long list of opportunities to make personalized learning a reality for every student in the country.

But these opportunities will only translate into results for students if stakeholders take advantage of them to design new systems of teaching and learning with high expectations and an aligned network of high quality learning experiences to ensure every student is challenged and every student succeeds.

In March, KnowledgeWorks released two resources to help states and districts think more deeply about ESSA through a personalized learning lens. First, we released a side-by-side to compare No Child Left Behind to the new opportunities for personalized learning in ESSA. Then, we created a guide with more detailed recommendations and guiding questions to support states as they begin to engage in design conversations about their state’s vision for teaching and learning under ESSA.

While we expect there will be many different and creative visions that emerge from states over the next year, here’s one possible scenario for how a state can advance personalized learning under ESSA.

A Sample State Vision for Personalized Learning under ESSA


The state’s accountability system incorporates academic and social and emotional learning measures that incentivize deeper levels of learning. Schools must show evidence that students are mastering deeper levels of academic competencies at a rate of growth to ensure proficiency in all core subjects by graduation.

School Improvement

Comprehensive and readily-available data from the state’s accountability system enables stakeholders to design proactive supports and interventions for all schools. In the few cases when end-of-year interventions are necessary, an extensive diagnostic review helps stakeholders develop a plan to ensure all students progress at a sufficient rate of growth to get back on track in time for graduation. While districts have the flexibility to design their own strategies for school reform, state resources and support align to a set of high-quality principles for advancing personalized learning.


A balanced system of formative, interim and summative assessments integrates multiple points of learning evidence and provides an accurate picture of each student’s learning trajectory. Summative assessments are administered in smaller, more frequent assessments throughout the year and include performance tasks to measure mastery of complex demonstrations of knowledge. All assessments are computer adaptive to help stakeholders better identify student learning needs and design a plan for improvement.

Educator Workforce

The state has developed a comprehensive set of professional competencies that reflect the skills and responsibilities teachers and leaders need to excel in personalized learning environments. The state’s pre-service, certification, professional development, and evaluation programs are all aligned to these competencies so teachers and leaders have the personalized support to embrace new roles and deepen mastery of professional competencies.

Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs)

The state has aligned federal and state resources for ELOs to a statewide vision for personalized learning. Students have access to a state-monitored digital registry of credit-bearing ELOs, both inside and outside the classroom, that are aligned to state standards and competencies. Students and educators work together to design customized pathways to mastery that combine traditional instruction with ELOs.


We hope the national dialogue around ESSA continues to highlight the tremendous potential in ESSA to build an aligned personalized learning system. The success of this reauthorization depends on states’ ability to knit together these opportunities in a compelling and high quality way that increases rigor, student engagement, and college and career readiness so all students succeed.


Lillian Pace is the Senior Director of National Policy for KnowledgeWorks. Prior to joining the foundation, Lillian served as an Education Policy Advisor for the House Education and Labor Committee, where she worked on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. She holds a B.A. in public policy and journalism from Washington and Lee University and an M.P.P. from George Washington University. 

Follow her on Twitter: @LillianPace and LinkedIn.
To keep on top of education policy, check out Lillian's Blog.

BlogTalk Radio Podcast with Lillian Pace and Matt Williams from KnowledgeWorks on Personalized Learning under ESSA

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