Educator Development Key to Statewide Personalized Learning, iNACOL Says
States integrating personalized, competency-based learning need to take the lead in preparing their teachers to implement these instructional models, argues a new issue brief from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), an online learning research and advocacy organization.
The brief encourages states to identify the specific skills that teachers require for competency-based education, a method of instruction in which learning is measured through mastery of skills and concepts, rather than time spent in the classroom. States can then integrate those skills into pre-service training and continuing professional development.
Chief among these skills, iNACOL says, is the ability to make reliable and fair judgments of student mastery within a personalized, competency-based learning model.
In a classroom doing personalized learning, the students may be working with unique content, developing different skills, while progressing at varying paces, said Maria Worthen, iNACOL's vice president for federal and state policy.
A teacher in this environment has to be a "credentialer of learning," she said, able to consistently evaluate mastery in different contexts.
Worthen highlighted New Hampshire's competency-based assessment pilot program as a system that trains teachers to develop this professional judgment—and allows them to exercise it.
The program, Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE), allows participating districts to draw from a bank of locally created, state-standards-aligned assignments that are designed to measure how well a student can transfer knowledge and apply complex skills.
These competency-based assessments are an alternative to standardized tests, and teachers play a major role in developing, implementing, and grading them, said Worthen.
It's worth the time and effort it takes to secure teacher buy-in for these kinds of new assessment strategies, she said, as it leads educators and students to trust that the tests they're using are valuable, accurate measurements of progress.
The fragmented nature of teacher preparation, licensing, and credentialing can also be a barrier to integrating competency-based learning into the educator workforce pipeline, said Worthen. In a series of action steps in the research brief, iNACOL recommends that states first reach out to K-12 districts, higher education institutions, and other certification programs to "define the space" and align expectations.
For more on some of the steps states have taken to provide professional development for competency-based education, check out Education Week's overview of state policies from last year's special report on personalized learning.