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Report Urges Changes in State Policies, Funding in Support of 'Personalized Learning'

By Leo Doran

Changing state policies to move away from "seat time" requirements, and re-prioritizing the flow of money to schools, are among the actions policymakers need to take to support "personalized learning," an education technology advocacy group argues in a new report.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning  or iNACOL, a Virginia-based nonprofit released the report "Promising State Policies for Personalized Learning" this week in the hopes of convincing states to create friendlier environments for personalized learning.

While the report's authors say some strides towards personalized learning can be made under existing state policies, the group cautions that some initiatives encounter "policy barriers" such as "seat-time restrictions, graduation requirements, educator and leader licensure requirements, funding rules, and policies on curriculum, assessments, and accountability."

The report outlines a series of policy targets for states, and highlights what the authors see as successful programs in place around the country.

New Hampshire and Vermont drew particular praise from iNACOL for their long-term focus on competency- and proficiency-based advancement systems and their support for local districts and teachers in transitioning to personalized learning models.

To support the implementation of programs that allow students to move through content at their own pace and in their own way, iNACOL says states should consider revising policies in a variety of areas:

  • Shifting to proficiency-based graduation requirements and expanding credit accumulation options;
  • Moving away from seat-time requirements to allow for more flexibility in approaches to student learning;
  • Rethinking accountability and assessments, in ways that capitalize on the leeway in testing offered by the Every Student Succeeds Act; and
  • Implementing competency-based advancement through schools, resisting the tendency towards social promotion.

The idea of competency-based learning has become more popular in states and districts, but it also has its detractors. Some say the academic strategy ends up placing too much emphasis on assessments to determine when students are ready to advance to more difficult material.

Others question whether it may end up lowering academic expectations, and whether the model is appropriate for all schools, or students. 

iNACOL is advocating for states to re-orient their posture towards local districts, in the hopes of giving K-12 systems room to experiment with and implement personalized learning programs.  The aim of the policy provisions is to "help states remove barriers and liberate educators to focus on student learning."

The report also underscores steps states can take to proactively support learner centered learning: 

In particular, iNACOL encourages states to providing funding for pilot or tests programs that embrace personalized learning, as well as developing new dedicated professional development options.

Mechanisms for delivering professional development, such as micro-credentialing, are cited favorably as strategies for applying the same principles of competency based advancement to teacher training.

Another important challenge for states, according to the nonprofit, is integrating student information systems with personalized-curriculum-delivery and achievement-tracking software.

To coordinate these effort, iNACOL points out that many of the states they consider to be most successful in adopting personalized learning programs, like Iowa, have created state task forces that include relevant stakeholders, like local principals and teachers, to coordinate state-wide personalized learning initiatives.

As states move towards competency-based promotion and accountability models, they will need to invest in and support the development of new state assessments and accountability measures.  New Hampshire's Performance Assessment of Competency Education is cited by the report's authors as a particularly promising effort.

Making sweeping changes to state policy will require big financial commitments, and iNACOL urges states to issue grants to support districts looking to implement such initiatives.

The group also included a long list of links and resources at the very end of the document for those interested in learning more about personalized learning, competency education and innovative assessments for accountability.

While personalized learning initiatives are are often with linked blended learning initiatives or in marketing for ed tech products, it is notable that the report spends relatively little space discussing ed tech.  For a deeper discussion of what exactly is meant when educators use the term 'personalized learning' visit EDWeek's Catherine Gewertz's entry in High School and Beyond.


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