Top 10 Ways ESSA Opens the Door for Personalized Learning

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

With the Every Student Success Act (ESSA) just three months old, all eyes are searching the federal K-12 education law for opportunities to advance education reform. While there are provisions that make me excited, and others that cause me concern. One thing is certain: the 391 pages are full 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 as they design new systems of teaching and learning. Fortunately, KnowledgeWorks has developed a side-by-side tool that compares key provisions in the previous K-12 education law (No Child Left Behind) to new provisions in ESSA that advance personalized learning. Our goal is to draw attention to these new opportunities so stakeholders are inspired to explore personalized learning elements as they begin to design and advocate for systems change.

You can access the full side-by-side tool here, or begin with the cliffs notes version below. Either way, we hope this information is useful and helps elevate conversations about how to build a better education system.

Top 10 Opportunities in ESSA to Advance Personalized Learning

  1. Assessment – Thanks to improvements to Title I assessment requirements and the state assessment grant program, states have an opportunity to replace or enhance current assessments with those that measure complex demonstrations of mastery, integrate multiple points of learning evidence, and provide an accurate picture of each student’s learning trajectory so stakeholders can respond with customized supports and interventions.
  2. Innovative Assessment Pilot – A new demonstration program will provide interested states with a unique opportunity to pilot high-quality, rigorous assessments that validate mastery of academic knowledge and core competencies through more complex performance-based tasks. These assessments (which may incorporate state-controlled local assessments) will provide a data-rich picture of each student’s performance level – not just those that meet or exceed proficiency.
  3. Accountability – States may integrate personalized learning indicators into their accountability system and assign substantial weight to those measures to ensure all students master the knowledge, skills, and competencies to succeed in college and career. States may also emphasize growth to proficiency in their accountability system to incentivize success for every student.
  4. School Improvement – States have significant flexibility in the identification and intervention of underperforming schools. States should take advantage of this opportunity to build a robust system of supports and interventions that incorporates personalized learning strategies to ensure all students are able to reach mastery by graduation. The system should provide schools with real-time data and diagnostic support to make necessary improvements throughout the school year instead of waiting for challenges to escalate.
  5. Direct Student Services – States have the opportunity to reserve up to 3% of their Title I, Part A grant to provide direct student services. States can leverage these resources to provide students in underperforming schools with access to high quality personalized learning opportunities.
  6. Educator Quality – By eliminating the highly qualified teacher requirement, ESSA gives states an opportunity to design a new strategy for educator quality that aligns to a vision for personalized learning. States should explore strategies to align their certification and licensing requirements to reflect new teaching roles and competencies for instruction in personalized learning environments.
  7. Leader Quality – States may take advantage of the opportunity to reserve up to 3% of their Title II, Part A grant to build a workforce of principals and other school leaders with the skills to help schools transition to personalized learning environments.
  8. Title IV, Part A Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants – ESSA creates a new block grant that states can leverage to encourage innovation and personalized learning activities across the state, especially activities that help educators design customized learning pathways for students focused on mastery of academic content knowledge and social and emotional competencies.
  9. 21st Century Community Learning Centers – States can leverage these federal resources to support partnerships with community organizations in the provision of personalized learning opportunities outside of the traditional school day, including those that provide students with academic credit.
  10. Community Support for School Success – Thanks to the authorization of the full-service community schools and promise neighborhoods programs, ESSA provides a significant opportunity for community partners to leverage cross-sector collective impact partnerships to help implement evidence-based personalized learning strategies to improve outcomes for students across the cradle to career continuum.

Download the side-by-side to compare NCLB and ESSA, and to explore opportunities for personalized learning.