Vermont serves as role model for personalized learning

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In the race to personalize learning, Vermont is at the top.

The state was highlighted in iNACOL’s latest report, titled “Promising State Policies for Personalized Learning,” for its government’s innovative approach to education that prizes competency in subjects over how long kids spend in classrooms and schools.

Vermont compels schools to have proficiency-based graduation requirements starting with students who are graduating in 2020, and the Legislature passed in 2013 the Flexible Pathways Initiative, which ensures that all students in grades 7-12 have personalized learning plans.

And every two years, each school is required to submit a continuous improvement plan that outlines the
school’s progress, goals and strategies for improvement.

“It’s the only state that has taken a comprehensive policy approach, because that’s what the stakeholders in the state wanted,” Maria Worthen, vice president for federal and state policy at iNACOL, said in an interview with EdScoop.

Worthen said the size of the state may have something to do with its ability to get on board with personalized learning, which often incorperates technology into the curriculum.

“I think in smaller states, it’s easier to bring stakeholders to the table and come up with a more cohesive vision,” she said. “Vermont is probably the size of a large urban school district, so they seem to be thinking in a more statewide way when they’re taking on initiatives.”

Other states that have made progress on personalized learning policies include Ohio, West Virginia, Oregon and New Hampshire, all of which have offered new regulations on credit flexibility. Some states, like West Virginia, have allowed school districts to request waivers to get rid of “seat time” — a policy where students earn credit based on the amount of time they spend in the classroom. Instead, students earn credit after they show they have mastered a particular subject.

“That means that a district could choose to reframe academic credit into competencies rather than seat time,” Worthen said. “Something else they can do is start an ‘innovation zone,’ a program that grants flexibility to schools and districts to give them a little freedom from state regulations.”

Worthen, one of the authors of the report, said each state can have a different entry point to explore personalized learning policies. She recommends that states start a competency-based education task force with representatives from schools and government to research what the barriers are in the statute, as well as in the culture of the districts.

There is also more room to experiment under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which offers states more flexibility around achievement and assessment measurements.

“This is really a historic moment,'” Worthen said. “The main federal barriers to competency-based personalized learning were around accountability and assessment, and those barriers are gone now. So it’s really up to states at this point to think about how they can grasp this new opportunity.”

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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