ESSA: State Pioneers in Personalized Educator Support

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

Tyler Barnett highlights innovative student-centered learning strategies from state ESSA plans and identifies a few of the state pioneers lighting the path. Guest post by Tyler Barnett

As students pour back into schoolhouses around the country for yet another year of learning, the final deadline for states to submit their ESSA Consolidated State Plans is fast approaching. All but a few have now released at least a draft of those plans, and the collective results send a clear message to inquiring minds: a new frontier is on the horizon for education in America.

A number of pioneering states are exploring innovative strategies to prepare students for success in the 21st century, and often at the heart of the conversation is student-centered learning. Last week, I noted some of the common trends appearing among the different plans in the Supporting Excellent Educators section. We saw that states are leveraging ESSA’s broad flexibility to rethink everything from how they provide professional development (PD) for educators to how they prepare and certify educators. This week, I’ll highlight some of the most innovative student-centered learning strategies from around the nation and identify a few of the state pioneers lighting the path. Specifically, I’ll focus on the plans to support educators in Arkansas, New Hampshire, and Delaware.


I’ll lead off with the Natural State, as its plan contains one of the most comprehensive, cohesive systems of support for educators concerning the implementation of student-centered learning. For Arkansas, the whole plan is driven by its vision: “to lead the nation in student-focused education so that every student graduates ready for college, career, and community engagement.” Recognizing that to execute such a vision depends heavily on the capacity of the state’s educators to cultivate student-centered learning environments, Arkansas is redesigning how it trains, supports, and evaluates its educators.

Arkansas’s overall Theory of Action includes transforming to a system of competency-based, personalized mentoring and professional learning for teachers (this is reflective of the system the state envisions for its students as well). It all starts with a multi-tiered system of support. At the foundation of that system are the state’s quality standards for teaching and leading. Those quality standards inform data-driven professional growth plans (required for all educators) that are used for evaluative purposes. Data from those growth plans can then lead to personalized PD opportunities for teachers.

Arkansas will offer PD through both face-to-face meetings and virtual options, wherein teachers will have access to an online platform of professional learning that can be accessed anytime, anywhere and can be chosen based on teachers’ individual needs. By demonstrating competency in specific skills or content areas, teachers can earn digital badges known as microcredentials. These microcredentials will signify attainment of skills or knowledge and will streamline the state’s process for review and renewal of teacher credentials. The state will further incentivize districts to align compensation to microcredentialing and advanced licensure. Finally, the whole system of support will be bolstered by an expanded mentoring program, which will provide ongoing, personalized learning opportunities for teachers and access to competency-based, personalized learning tools.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire is already among the most advanced statewide systems for personalized learning in the nation, and its ESSA Plan will only extend that status. With almost half of the school administrative units (SAUs) in the state piloting its personalized learning program—the Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE)—New Hampshire has tremendous momentum for personalized learning.

In an effort to create what New Hampshire calls “learner-responsive educators,” the state is building a system of integrated support across the continuum of a teacher’s career. A learner-responsive educator must demonstrate the ability to personalize learning for all students and deliver competency-based education, among other expectations. Like other leading states, New Hampshire will offer access to personalized, digital PD opportunities for all teachers. However, what sets New Hampshire apart is its inclusion of higher education in the effort to advanced personalized learning.

New Hampshire prioritizes the development of learner-responsive educators in both policy and practice. For accreditation and program approval purposes, the New Hampshire Department of Education (NHDOE) includes in its administrative rules the expectation that educator preparation programs produce learner-responsive educators. To that end, the state requires also that educator preparation programs evaluate teacher candidates based upon their ability to demonstrate certain competencies aligned to their chosen area of certification.

Furthermore, state leaders have established the Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) Network, whose members have convened a committee to explore strategies for equipping school leaders with the necessary level of understanding and proficiency to support competency-based and personalized learning environments.


Delaware has a highly integrated, streamlined cycle of support for teachers that begins with a data-driven learning management system (LMS), which leads to personalized, digital trainings for teachers or face-to-face trainings. The state has linked its Schoology LMS with its Professional Development Management System (PDMS) for registration and tracking purposes to provide online PD, mandatory trainings, and technical assistance to the state’s educators based on data. Delaware offers a variety of online, eLearning trainings for educators through both facilitator-led and on-demand, self-paced courses. By pairing such eLearning with any face-to-face PD opportunities that are provided by the state or districts, Delaware is truly personalizing professional learning for its teachers.

As validation for professional learning, and as a way to differentiate career pathways for individual teacher goals and needs, the state has also launched a microcredentials pilot with two districts. Microcredentials in Delaware will be competency-based, personalized, and available on-demand. The goal is to meet the needs of individual teachers and to provide a potential path for educators to earn hours towards re-licensure.

Finally, Delaware offers Reimagining Professional Learning Grants, which support the improved quality and efficacy of professional learning. These grants are awarded based on a district’s ability to integrate Delaware’s professional learning standards and to incorporate innovative, rigorous professional learning models that will strengthen teaching and learning in ELA, math, and literacy.

To be sure, several other states have proposed innovative strategies in addition to those mentioned here. Idaho and Georgia, among others, have unique solutions of their own that should be celebrated. But while the three states featured in this post certainly don’t represent all of the innovations being discussed, I do think their plans can be instructive for those who are rethinking how to prepare a teaching corps for today’s and tomorrow’s world. What we hope will be evident from this post is that as the world around us evolves at a historic pace, so too should the way we prepare our children to thrive in that world. Without the proper training and support, however, the teachers responsible for preparing our children may be hopelessly lost. It is therefore incumbent on our state leaders to light the path and create opportunities for our teachers to build the skills they need to succeed in continuously evolving student-centered environments.

See for yourself how states are incorporating personalized learning into their ESSA state plans and what is happening in your state with our interactive map.