Personalized learning and accelerated student outcomes

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about our support for schools that are redesigning their instructional models in order to personalize learning for students. I listed design principles shared by these schools:

  • Student Centered: designed to meet the diverse learning needs of each student every day
  • High Expectations: committed to ensuring that every student will meet clearly defined, rigorous standards that will prepare them for success in college and career
  • Self-Pacing & Mastery-Based Credit: enables students to move at their own optimal pace, and receive credit when they can demonstrate mastery of the material
  • Blended Instruction: optimizes teacher- and technology-delivered instruction in group and individual work
  • Student Ownership: empowers students with skills, information and tools they need to manage their own learning
  • Financial Sustainability: sustainable on public per-pupil revenue within four years
  • Scalable: designed to serve many more students if it demonstrates impact

In the earlier post I wrote a couple paragraphs about “self-pacing & mastery-based credit” and “student ownership.” I received a few emails asking about specific expectations for performance at the school level, since “high expectations” is listed as a principle. We’re thinking a lot about this with our partners.

Most of the schools we support serve high percentages of students who enter with academic knowledge and skills well below the benchmarks for their grade. To help students catch up, the school teams are designing instructional models and using technologies they hope will accelerate learning gains. The new schools we are funding have a goal of achieving an average of 1.5 years of growth for their students each year.

When I said this in a keynote at a conference in October, some folks in the tweet stream said it was illogical — one year is one year, and whatever a kid learns that year is a year’s worth of learning. That’s true in one sense, but we’re saying something different. Independent assessment instruments often have an objective notion of how many concepts students typically master in a school year and at specific grade levels. When students master fewer or more than these, they are said to achieve less or more than a year’s growth.

A more practical way to think about it is this: Imagine a 9th grader arrives at high school with 7th grade reading and math knowledge and skills.  Unfortunately this is a pretty common phenomenon in low income communities. The only way for this student to graduate in four years meeting 12th grade academic expectations is to learn 1.5 years of material every year.

To evaluate whether their approaches are working, the new personalized school models we fund agree to participate in a common, multi-year research and evaluation study conducted by RAND. The study focuses on learning outcomes, implementation issues, and financial sustainability.

For learning outcomes, “years of growth” will be measured at the student and school level in math, language arts, and problem-solving using the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) adaptive assessment, given at the beginning of the study to establish a baseline and then at the end of each academic year to evaluate growth. RAND will also collect and analyze state test scores, attendance, behavior, and graduation rates and compare them to matched comparison groups, along with non-cognitive measures of grit and academic mindset.

But back to the main idea of the post — regardless of the specific measurement instrument, what do you think about this 1.5 years of growth concept?