Edu-Date Lab: Standards-Based Accountability and Personalized Learning

One of my guilty pleasures is Washington Post Magazine‘s Date Lab, which pares potential matches from a pool of applicants and sends them on dinner dates around Washington, D.C. I thought it might be fun to try something similar for education–not matching up actual people, mind you (sorry single AOTH readers!). Instead, we’re matching up education policies that have the potential for a high level of compatibility, but need to overcome underlying tensions and values differences in order to achieve that potential. (Sounds a lot like dating, right?)  Also, no one gets a free dinner. So let’s meet today’s lucky couple.

Standards-based accountability was born in the wake of 1983’s Nation at Risk report, and has been the dominant framework for U.S. education policy for the past quarter-century. It’s helped drive improvement in student learning outcomes, but one if its key features–testing–has taken some hits in public opinion and political support over the last few years, and is at the core of the current debate over ESEA reauthorization. Standards-based accountability enjoys common grade-level standards, assessments, using assessments to rate school performance, and intervening in low-performing schools.

Personalized learning is newer to education reform, but has received increasing attention in recent years. A growing number of schools and districts use technology in new ways to provide more customized student learning experiences, but many personalized learning models are still nascent, and the approach has yet to reach widespread national scale. Personalized learning enjoys individual learner profiles, customized personal learning paths, progression based on mastery of competencies rather than seat-time, and flexible learning environments.

Do these two crazy kids have a chance together? On the plus side, they share a common goal: Enabling all kids to reach college and career readiness. On the downside, they have slightly different underlying values and assumptions about how best to improve public education.

If these two can get over their differences, they could be a match made in heaven: Standards-based accountability systems can produce evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of personalized learning , and stimulate school and district demand for the best personalized learning approaches. Personalized learning, in turn, can help accelerate student learning to enable all children to reach college and career ready standards.

But if they can’t successfully negotiate the underlying tensions, standards-based accountability and personalized learning could be in for some serious conflict.

Want to know how it all ends up? Too bad! That’s going to depend on the choices that policymakers, state and district leaders, and personalized learning innovators make over the next few years. A new Bellwether report, however, offers them guidance to ensure that this relationship thrives, rather than falters. Check it out here.