‘Personalized learning’ helps in math, reading

“Personalized learning” appears to be raising math and reading scores at 23 schools, according to “interim research” by Rand for the Gates Foundation.

Teacher Pete Knight works with students at an Oakland middle school.

Teacher Pete Knight works with students at an Oakland middle school.

The 23 urban charter schools in the study predominantly enroll low-income students with below-average scores. Yet students ended the school year above or near the national average. The lowest performers improved the most.

Most teachers use technology — adaptive software programs with short lessons and quizzes — to personalize instruction. Students work at their own pace and their own level, moving forward only when they’ve demonstrated mastery. Typically, teachers work with small groups while other students are working independently.

Slightly less than half of teachers said students use technology for educational purposes about a quarter to half of the time, and about 20 percent said students use technology between 50 to 75 percent of the time. Among the remainder, nearly 20 percent reported an even higher level of technology usage, and nearly 20 percent reported a fairly low level of technology usage.

Most schools used common elements, notes Chalkbeat

  • “Learner profiles,” or records with details about each student;
  • Personalized learning plans for each student (students have the same expectation but have a “customized path”);
  • Competency-based progression, in which students receive grades based on their own mastery of subjects rather than on tests that all students take; and
  • Flexible learning environments, in which teachers and students have physical space and time in the schedule for small-group instruction or tutoring.

Denver’s  Grant Beacon Middle School has used blended learning to personalize for three years, reports Chalkbeat. Test scores and student engagement have improved, says Alex Magaña, the principal. Denver may create several new schools modeled on Grant Beacon.

I wrote about experiments with blended learning in Oakland schools — mostly district schools — in Education Next.

For more on using blended learning to personalize, check out: Blended. Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve SchoolsHow to get blending learning right and Does blended learning work?

Testing for competency

New Hampshire requires high schools to measure credit in terms of competency rather than “seat time,” writes Julie Freeland. Schools are trying different ways to evaluate competence.

At Sanborn Regional High School, students take pen-and-paper exams, but they can retest if they haven’t achieved mastery.

North Country Charter Academy students follow a self-paced online curriculum with frequent online tests to evaluate mastery. Teachers provide support as needed.

Next Charter School uses student projects.

For example, the students in a social studies course might be asked to write a letter to President Obama proposing foreign policy strategies. The letter might have to include both a historical account of previous foreign policy strategies, a proposed action, and a rationale and justification for why that proposed action was the best option.

If the project doesn’t show mastery, the student can revise it or pick a new project.

From Policy to Practice, by the Christensen Institute, looks at New Hampshire’s shift to competency-based learning.

CreditWren McDonald

Replace the college admissions systems with assessment centers, proposes Adam Grant in the New York Times. Businesses, government and the military use these to evaluate job candidates, he writes. “Today, at a typical center, applicants spend a day completing a series of individual tasks, group activities and interviews. Some assessments are objectively scored for performance; others are observed by multiple trained evaluators looking for key behaviors.”

Competency degrees help working adults

Working adults are turning to online competency-based programs to cut the cost and time of earning a degree.

Feds will test aid for competency programs

Hoping to speed older students to a degree, the U.S. Education Department will allow some colleges to award credit — and student aid — for competency and prior learning.

Online, competency degree is aimed at adults

Washington state community colleges plan to offer an online, competency-based associate degree in business designed for working adults. Students should be able to complete a degree in 18 months or less for $2,666 per six-month semester.

With college costs rising, competency-based degree programs are expanding.

Colleges try competency ed

Competency-based programs in information technology are in the works at 11 community colleges. In competency programs, students progress at their own pace as they demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills. Learning– not time — is they key variable.

Rubio: American Dream must be affordable

Education and the American Dream was the theme of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s keynote speech at Making Community Colleges Work, a National Journal event at Miami Dade College. The son of immigrants, Rubio started his career as an attorney with $100,000 in student loans. He proposed income-based repayment of student loans and Income Sharing Agreements, expanding vocational education, easing accreditation for online educators and testing to prove competency.

Pay It Forward repayment schemes for student borrowers are flawed but fixable.

Top higher ed stories of 2013

The rise of MOOCS lead Ed Central’s Top Ten Higher Ed Stories of 2013. Also on the list: Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America, “the first school to award federal aid based on direct assessment of students’ learning,” instead of credit hours; President Obama’s plan to rank colleges by “value” and “merit aid madness.”

Core enforces college prep for all

Career tech could be sidelined by Common Core standards and tests, worries  Anthony Carnevale, who runs Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “In theory, the Common Core says, we just want you to be able to do a certain set of things, we don’t care how you learn it. But when I look at the assessments, basically it looks like very academic kinds of learning goals to me.”

Competency-based education is super-hot — but what is it?

From competency to credentials

Awarding credentials for competency — not just seat time — is helping workers move up career ladders. But there are concerns about the quality of competency-based programs and whether students should qualify for financial aid.

Also see: After college, what?