Vermont’s public school teachers and administrators are spending this year preparing for dramatic changes in teaching and learning that will bring together schools, parents, students and community resources to develop personalized learning plans, or PLPs, for all middle and high school students.
Under Act 77, the Flexible Pathways Initiative, approved last year by the state legislature and signed by Governor Peter Shumlin, schools are required to implement PLPs for each student in grades 7 and 9 by the fall of 2015. They’ll be phased in for all of the 40,500 students in 7th through 12th grade over the next few years.
Although the law doesn’t mandate PLPs for younger students, Tom Alderman, the director of secondary and adult education at the Vermont Agency of Education, said state leaders—starting with the governor—believe they’re essential for all children.
“These plans would help guide each student’s education and also tie educational goals to career opportunities, making school more relevant,” said Gov. Shumlin, in his 2013 State of the State address. He added that the goal “is to increase our students’ individual options while fostering a connection between school and career.”
Personalized learning plans are becoming more popular with many districts. Education Week has been paying close attention to trend with a number of articles collected into a special spotlight page on PLPs, including questions and challenges regarding the use of technology to improve individual instruction, what a personalized learning environment looks like, and new approaches to personalized learning.
In Vermont, it’s up to each school to work out the details of the process for implementing the new law, but common denominators should include teachers meeting with students to gain an understanding of their interests, skills, college and career goals, and learning styles, and use that to plan courses, internships, job shadowing, and work-based learning experiences, according to the Vermont Agency of Education’s website on personalized learning plan.
The PLP would travel with the student from grade to grade, but be flexible enough to be tweaked or changed if a student wishes.
The law also calls for flexibility and options in graduation requirements. It makes a strong push for dual enrollment so students can start to earn college credit while they’re in high school. Alderman said students could take classes at 20 of Vermont’s community colleges, state colleges, the University of Vermont, and some private colleges.
Dual enrollment is targeted at students who might not even be considering college, said Alderman, adding that “the overall goal is to enable every student to take advantage of all the learning opportunities that exist, and for those students that are ready, that includes college experiences while in high school.”
The state board of education approved new quality standards that complement the PLPs allowing students to graduate if they’ve been able to show mastery in a subject, instead of basing graduation requirements only on test scores and how much time a student has spent sitting in class.
Alderman said the state plans to spend somewhere in the ballpark of $1 million this year to support schools as they ramp up to implement the new law and regulations. Over the summer, the state held a week-long institute for a group of districts. The Agency of Education is in the process of reading through applications from districts that would like to participate in a months-long series of seminars on PLP development scheduled to take place this school year. Alderman said they expect to select about 30 district teams for these workshops. The state will continue to provide training for as many teachers as possible and anticipates that districts will pick up the slack.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.