Personalized Learning Opinion

Personalized Learning in Action: Postcard From New Hampshire

By Contributing Blogger — November 11, 2016 5 min read
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This post is by Adriana Martinez, the Interim Director of Operations for the Innovation Lab Network at the Council of Chief State School Officers.

A few weeks ago, I packed my bags and ventured into New England for the first time. At first, I was unimpressed with New England’s main attraction, the colorful foliage, which was the main conversation starter of all the small talk and the center of all the New England jokes. I quickly changed my mind, however, as soon as I was on a bus on our way to Pittsfield Elementary. As our bus driver maneuvered our incredibly large bus through tiny and windy roads of rural New Hampshire, I was captivated by the moment, excited by the oranges, purples, and reds around me, and the schools I was about to see. If you’re familiar with the Innovation Lab Network (ILN), you can easily guess why I was in the New Hampshire on a bus visiting schools. If you’re not familiar with the ILN, this is a network of twelve states facilitated by the Council of Chief State School Officers dedicated to transforming public education to by centering student needs within personalized learning and competency-based education systems.

This small corner of the world has garnered incredible attention over the last couple of years for their work in competency-based education and performance assessment, known as the PACE pilot. I was joined by curious education leaders from across the nation clamoring to visit schools to see first-hand the transformation taking place in New Hampshire. As a longstanding member of the ILN and a national leader, New Hampshire was a natural site for convening our network, comprised of senior state education agency leaders and local practitioners. When we convened all the education leaders representing twelve states committed to transforming education and advancing learner-centered learning, we had the opportunity to collectively reflect on our achievements and challenges to date, and to look ahead to the future (and make jokes about leaves, too).

People may think the PACE pilot, or the Performance Assessment for Competency Education pilot, is the main attraction New Hampshire has for education policy. The pilot offers the state and its districts a fantastic opportunity to learn about the process of assessment and how assessment informs student learning. But let’s be clear: PACE is only the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on in New Hampshire. What allows New Hampshire to stand out as a leader in public education is its relentless spirit and willingness to be innovative and focus on what students need.

When Pittsfield Elementary opened its door to us, they weren’t there to showcase their PACE work; they were there to showcase nascent work around personalized learning, something called NG2 or “no grades no grades.” NG2 represents a concept that moves away from grade levels as the central organizing structure for moving students through their learning trajectory and moves away from letter grades (A-F) as the main indicator of student learning. Instead, students move through their learning at flexible paces that meet students where they are. Students move on when they demonstrate proficiency, not when they achieve a minimum letter grade. The work at Pittsfield Elementary only started this year, but already I could see the impact it was having on students. Moving towards a system that is flexible and that emphasizes student learning rather than grades impacts children in several ways, most notably by empowering students to be agents of their own learning.

Some of the work New Hampshire is leading in personalized learning was stimulated through collaborative learning with their ILN peers in Wisconsin. Last year, our Annual Convening gathered this same group of state leaders in Milwaukee to view personalized learning in action. Following that meeting, state leaders in New Hampshire knew they could learn more from these schools and organized a series of school visits so that their educators could learn from their colleagues in Wisconsin. As the work around personalized learning and NG2 is beginning in New Hampshire, state leaders are making plans to collaborate with the Institute for Personalized Learning in Wisconsin to work on leadership development, in an effort to better support this work.

Other examples of powerful collaborative learning can be seen in other states in the Innovation Lab Network. This coming spring, Kentucky will send their own cadre of educators to Wisconsin schools to learn about their practices and lessons learned in order to build connections among peer educators and support the implementation of personalized learning within their state. This is the power of our network in action: our states inspire and push each other to raise the bar for kids, they commit to learning together, and supporting each other along the way. This group of states, and many more, will lead the nation as they prepare for a new era in education marked by our transition to implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Many states, including those in the Innovation Lab Network, will leverage ESSA to advance student-centered learning in bold and innovative ways.

As I left New Hampshire and made my way back home to DC, I felt energized and hopeful for our future--and not just because of the beautiful leaves. I encourage you to join us along this journey! The ILN recently launched a newsletter where we will share updates from all of our member states and insights from projects led by the ILN. Some of these projects include work we’re leading around Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Teaching and leadership; our collective exploration on equity and personalized learning; a new project we’re coordinating on career readiness and competency-based education; and our work to support states in ESSA implementation through innovative approaches to accountability and assessment. Finally, you can always learn about the work and journeys of our states through our interactive site Next State of Learning.

Photos by Adriana Martinez.

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