iNACOL report offers concrete recommendations for states under ESSA

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The Every Student Succeeds Act provides a new framework for schools to reinvent teaching – and an unparalleled opportunity to personalize learning and create original forms of assessments.

A new report from the International Association for K–12 Online Learning, known as iNACOL, gives states concrete recommendations on how to take advantage of the shift in power from the federal government to localities under the law, which was enacted last year.

“New systems of student-centered learning must be designed to increase equity and effectively
meet the needs of all communities, elevating the learning and readiness of all graduates,
regardless of race, zip code or circumstance,” the authors of the report write.

Introducing competency-based learning, which allows students to advance at their own pace when they show mastery over a subject, is an important step toward breaking with tradition.

ESSA allows schools, if they grasp onto new ways of teaching and learning, to redesign assessments and create personalized learning systems that incorporate tools like digital dashboards and real-time report cards.

“Next generation accountability should be
coupled with state policies to create space for innovation and new models of personalized, competency-based teacher preparation and credentialing,” write the authors, who added that micro-credentials and digital badges can be innovative forms of assessment. “This will equip educators with the
skills and flexibility needed to successfully implement student-centered learning.”

Officials should also think about piloting different kinds of assessments before scaling them statewide. To do this, states will need to ask the U.S. Department of Education for permission to participate in the Innovative Assessment Pilot, a new initiative under ESSA. Seven states are likely to be approved for this program, according to iNACOL.

“The intent behind this program was to provide a clear, objective and viable path forward for states to pilot
new types of assessments for accountability under ESSA,” according to the report.

For these new systems to be introduced successfully, states need to collaborate with and support local school districts and educators, and invest in professional development and capacity to bring these new kinds of assessments on board. The new systems should make room for formative and performance-based tests as well as summative exams across states to measure and evaluate student progress.

“With ESSA, states now have a historic opportunity to rethink how to use assessments in a coherent way to
align and support teaching and learning while meeting the requirements of next generation accountability
focused on continuous improvement,” according to the report.

Competency-based learning and assessments aren’t just for students – teachers can also stand to gain from new systems.

Before ESSA, federal teacher requirements focused almost solely on time-based input credentials like Highly Qualified Teacher, which was repealed when the law went into effect. Now, states can shape their own teacher evaluation systems.

Teachers can demonstrate mastery “using evidence such as projects, exhibitions, e-portfolios and work products,” according to the analysis. “Educators could experience professional development by creating powerful, personalized learning
experiences.
States, districts and schools should work together to create next generation micro-credentials to redesign
teacher preparation and certification for the 21st century.”

The report also touches on new learning “infrastructures,” which include access to high-speed internet, open educational resources or OER, data systems aligned to personalized learning, and privacy and security of student data.

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