State Landscape

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State Landscape

Considering the needs of students with disabilities in the design of the personalized learning systems requires honest conversations and dedicated action, not only about the benefits personalized learning can offer these students, but also about the challenges. To identify the challenges and opportunities inherent in personalized learning, NCLD set out on a yearlong exploration of personalized learning in three states: New Hampshire, Colorado, and North Carolina.

These states not only reflect geographic and demographic diversity, but are at different stages of implementing personalized learning. New Hampshire has had over two decades of experience in implementing their competency-based initiatives, while efforts in Colorado and North Carolina are more recent. Each state reflects different histories, contexts, and policy environments.

Personalized Learning for All: Actions for States to Make Aspirations a Reality

Considering the needs of students with disabilities in the design of the system requires honest conversations and dedicated action, not only about the benefits personalized learning can offer these students but also about the inherent challenges. The benefits and challenges often end up being two sides of the same coin—the potential of personalized learning and the work necessary to achieve that potential.

Through constructive conversations with close to 100 key leaders across all three states, several action steps emerged to ensure the success of students with disabilities in personalized learning systems:

ACTION STEP #1Establish an inclusive vision for personalized learning efforts from the beginning of design and planning.
ACTION STEP #2Ensure sufficient resources to provide accommodations and supports to help students with disabilities fully participate in personalized learning efforts.
ACTION STEP #3Train general and special educators to implement personalized learning inclusively.
ACTION STEP #4Use comprehensive accountability and support systems to ensure access to and rigor of quality learning experiences for all students.
ACTION STEP #5Invest in pilot programs that test strategies around personalized learning, and ensure that pilot programs have a means to learn and disseminate learning around implementation opportunities and challenges for students with disabilities.
ACTION STEP #6Communicate with and engage families from program initiation to implementation of personalized learning efforts.

Strategies associated with personalized learning can support clearer, higher expectations for all students, empower student agency and self-determination skills that can positively impact postsecondary outcomes, and direct opportunities and supports to both address student needs and build on their interests. Achieving these benefits requires states, districts, schools, and educators to address both the unique challenges and the benefits that personalized learning initiatives and programs present to students with disabilities.

Download PDF of “Personalized Learning for All”

Personalized Learning in Practice

More than 40 states have some sort of policy to advance personalized learning, ranging from pilot programs and waivers to broader policy changes. None of these policies look exactly alike and none would define the notion of personalized learning in exactly the same way. If implemented effectively, this vision of learning can have transformative effects on the learning of all students.

NCLD collected three stories from each state of the different approaches schools are taking to implement personalized learning systems, and developed recommendations for the states to enhance opportunities for students with disabilities.

Use the menu below to read case studies and policy recommendations for each state. 

New Hampshire

“New Hampshire takes the lead!” New Hampshire has been a national leader in moving toward flexible systems of teaching and learning in which students can demonstrate mastery of knowledge, skills, and dispositions without being limited by place or mode of learning. We explored how New Hampshire students with disabilities could maximize the benefits of the state’s efforts, ensuring they are graduating prepared for success in college, careers, and civic life.

Read below for examples of how students with disabilities are benefitting from approaches to personalized learning in New Hampshire and recommendations for how the state can continue to support students with disabilities in their efforts to customize learning.

Extended Learning Opportunities at Hinsdale High School

Tierney Iman, a graduate of Hinsdale High School, has a diagnosed intellectual disability.

Many schools might have suggested that Tierney couldn’t achieve the regular high school diploma and should settle for a lesser diploma or a certificate of attendance. That’s not what Tierney wanted—she wanted to attain a regular high school diploma. Tierney had trouble demonstrating mastery in some of the requirements in a traditional classroom environment.

The Vision: To provide all learners—whether advanced or struggling, with a disability or without—multiple and diverse learning opportunities that would engage and inspire them to succeed in college, career, and civic life.

The Strategy: Hinsdale High School has a strong extended learning opportunity (ELO) program that allows students to demonstrate competency in multiple ways—not just in a classroom, but also through internships, projects, and other means.

The district has developed a set of rubrics to guide educators and ensure that, regardless of how students choose to demonstrate a competency, their demonstration meets rigorous standards. This program is available to any student—those with disabilities and those without— and is customized for each student.

“I remember Tierney and her parents coming to us, adamant that Tierney must do what it takes to get the 20-credit diploma. It was a wake-up moment
for us. We all looked at each other and thought, ‘Who are we to tell this student she can’t?’”

 

Karen Thompson
ELO Coordinator, Hinsdale High School

“I remember Tierney and her parents coming to us, adamant that Tierney must do what it takes to get the 20-credit diploma. It was a wake-up moment
for us. We all looked at each other and thought, ‘Who are we to tell this student she can’t?’”

 

Karen Thompson
ELO Coordinator, Hinsdale High School

At Hinsdale, every ELO must meet four criteria: 

  • Research
  • Reflection
  • Product
  • Presentation

Quickly, Tierney, her teachers, and Karen Thompson, the school’s ELO coordinator, got together to strategize ways the ELO project could be tailored for Tierney.

In the spring of 2016, after completing an internship and demonstrating mastery of specific state civics competencies, Tierney walked across the podium with her peers and received her 20-credit diploma, knowing objectively that she had done the work and mastered the skills represented by that diploma.


Learn more about the ELO program at Hinsdale High School and how they are working to support students like Tierney:

Download PDF of “Extended Learning Opportunities at Hinsdale High School”

At Hinsdale, every ELO must meet four criteria: 

  • Research
  • Reflection
  • Product
  • Presentation

Implementing UDL at D.J. Bakie Elementary School


Jake Nash doesn’t find school an easy place to be. Diagnosed with an emotional and behavioral disorder, Jake struggles to get along well with peers in group settings, and he is frustrated by “one size fits all” paper-and pencil tests on things he’s not interested in.

The Vision: Students will not just be prepared for a single test, but will instead have the full range of knowledge, skills, and dispositions essential to their success.

The Strategy:  D.J. Bakie Elementary in Kingston, New Hampshire, is implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to offer students multiple ways to represent, express and engage in learning.

Educators at schools like D.J. Bakie know that the equity and access of personalized learning are only achieved through a series of often-difficult conversations, dedicated action, and effort. But the fruits of this effort are quite real. Jake—who in fourth grade had felt despondent and who had been difficult for his teachers and peers—began to understand himself and own his learning.

 


Learn more about the implementation of UDL at D.J. Bakie Elementary School and how it helped Jake and his peers:

Download PDF of “Implementing UDL at D.J. Bakie Elementary School”

New Hampshire’s PACE Assessments: Learning From the Ground Up

Jenny Deenik, a high school biology and chemistry teacher at Souhegan High School in Amherst, New Hampshire, has a grounding professional philosophy: With the right supports, all students can learn. 

For her students with disabilities, this means that rather than “modifying expectations,” Deenik looks to “accommodate needs.” Deenik’s high school is part of the Souhegan Cooperative School District, which is participating in a new effort in New Hampshire to redefine what assessment is and how it is used.

The Vision: Students will be college and career ready, and the system must advance students based on mastery of knowledge, skills, and dispositions, using a comprehensive system of educator and school support.

The Strategy: The Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) allows students to craft their own responses to a problem by demonstrating deep learning that goes beyond most traditional multiple-choice exams. Educators implementing PACE come together and develop both a set of performance tasks designed to reflect that a student has mastered a competency—the key knowledge, skills, and dispositions in a specific discipline (reading, math, and science)—and rubrics that objectively reflect whether a student’s achievements on that performance task reflect mastery of the competency.


Learn more about PACE and how it’s helping New Hampshire’s educators and students:

Download PDF of New Hampshire’s PACE Assessments: Learning From the Ground Up


Policy & Practice Recommendations for New Hampshire

NCLD identified significant issues confronting the state, and key actions to ensure that personalized learning efforts more fully meet the needs of New Hampshire students with disabilities. By taking these actions, we hope the state’s efforts will continue to extend rigorous and inclusive learning opportunities that prepare all students for college, career, and civic success.

66%1. Teachers, school leaders and paraprofessionals are trained to effectively include students with disabilities in personalized learning systems
66%2. The New Hampshire Department of Education, districts, and schools invest in systems of accommodations and provide guidance to schools that ensure inclusion of students with disabilities in personalized learning efforts.
20%3. The New Hampshire Department of Education ensures that efforts around innovation, scaling, and information dissemination explicitly include work and reflection on strategies to ensure that personalized learning efforts fully meet the needs of students with disabilities.
54%4. The New Hampshire Department of Education, school districts, and schools develop a plan and subsequent resources on communicating with parents of students with disabilities about personalized learning.

Download PDF of Policy &
Practice Recommendations for New Hampshire

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Colorado

Three factors reflect the hallmark of Colorado’s present education system: diversity, local control, and turnover. With its geographic, cultural, and demographic diversity, Colorado has long been a microcosm of the educational landscape now emerging in other states across the country.  Against this backdrop, we explored whether and in what way statewide efforts and interest in personalized learning could translate to positive experiences for students with disabilities.

Read below for examples of how students with disabilities are benefiting from approaches to personalized learning in Colorado, and recommendations for how the state can continue to support students with disabilities in their efforts to customize learning.

Leveraging Design Thinking to Advance Change for Trailblazer Elementary School 

Ann Yenne, a veteran teacher at Trailblazer Elementary School in Colorado Springs, wants to do well by her students—all of her students.

Yenne works hard to create a classroom that fosters engagement and a love of learning, but she often finds herself in a game of tug-of-war. When it comes to students with disabilities and other struggling learners in her classroom, she feels like she’s dragging them into learning rather than inspiring them to drive the learning process. She has struggled with an issue of mindset: How do you design systems that work for all students, especially for those who have varied learning needs? And how do adults think about what students can and can’t do?

The Colorado Education Initiative (CEI)—one of Yenne’s partner organizations in this work—struggles with a related issue: How do you obtain buy-in and help develop a mindset of full inclusion and continuous learning within partner schools and districts?

The Vision: All students will develop five competencies—academic, professional, entrepreneurial, personal, and civic—that are essential to future success.

The Strategy: The SpaceLab project infuses design thinking into the practices of Next Generation Learning and CEI’s other initiatives. In design thinking, leaders and practitioners collaboratively brainstorm and build solutions that are tailored to improve the outcomes and experiences of each student in every classroom.

SpaceLab infuses design thinking into practices through 5 steps:

Schools and districts implementing Next Generation Learning Systems have these features in common: 

  • Personal and personalized: Educators use a variety of means to best meet the needs of each learner.
  • Competency-based: Student progress is dictated not by grade levels and seat time, but by mastery of assessed competencies.
  • Co-created: Students take greater ownership of learning.
  • Safe and healthy: Students learn in safe, welcoming, and healthy learning environments.
  • Time-, talent-, and technology-enabled: Students have greater flexibility in where, when, how, and through whom their learning takes place.

Through the SpaceLab project—an initiative run by CEI to build partners’ capacity to engage in design thinking—Yenne began to reimagine the way she used space, time, and resources to more effectively serve her students, including those with disabilities, and meaningfully engage them in owning their learning experiences in the school’s personalized learning environment.

CEI’s first step in its efforts to support schools was to create a space to develop a vision for education. Throughout 2012 and 2013, CEI collaborated with and convened districts like Yenne’s, the Colorado Department of Education, the business community, and other state leaders, to develop a common vision for learning. This vision included expectations for what all students, including those with disabilities, must know and be able to do to succeed.

Shifting the definition of success in classrooms like Yenne’s from solely academic proficiency to five competency domains requires major changes in how education is delivered. Therefore, CEI continued to work with partners in the state to devise the best mechanism to facilitate these competencies. Ultimately, CEI created a project to support Next Generation Learning systems.


Learn more about how design thinking is transforming Trailblazer Elementary School and the Colorado Education Initiative:

Download PDF of “Leveraging Design Thinking to Advance Change for Trailblazer Elementary School”

Schools and districts implementing Next Generation Learning Systems have these features in common: 

  • Personal and personalized: Educators use a variety of means to best meet the needs of each learner.
  • Competency-based: Student progress is dictated not by grade levels and seat time, but by mastery of assessed competencies.
  • Co-created: Students take greater ownership of learning.
  • Safe and healthy: Students learn in safe, welcoming, and healthy learning environments.
  • Time-, talent-, and technology-enabled: Students have greater flexibility in where, when, how, and through whom their learning takes place.

The UCCS B.A. In Inclusive Elementary Education 

Though it’s not what she originally intended, Kailey Hogan, a junior at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS), wants to be a teacher.

When she started at UCCS as a freshman, she was a business major planning on eventually taking over her dad’s fiber optics business. Sitting in her undergraduate business classes, she quickly realized that it wasn’t her passion—she wanted to teach. But she didn’t want to be part of a school that followed a model that separated students with different needs from each other. In elementary school, she, herself, had been one of those students: falling behind in reading, getting pulled out of class to receive specialized instruction, and ultimately missing out on the experiences her peers were having.

The Vision: UCCS College of Education believes educators can meet the needs of all students from the first time they walk into a classroom and do so by seeing themselves as part of a team of teachers, knowing who to reach out to when they’re struggling.

The Strategy: The UCCS College of Education offers a Bachelor of Arts in Inclusive Elementary Education. The school takes a comprehensive approach to equity by focusing on co-teaching, offering inclusion courses, and placing teacher candidates in inclusive classrooms for their field experience. was intentional about placing Kailey and her peers in an inclusive classroom for their field experience.

The goal is for all undergraduate students to be prepared to meet the needs of all students.

Kailey will graduate from UCCS with three different credentials: a K–6 elementary initial license, a K–12 culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) endorsement, and a special education generalist endorsement. These credentials not only provide Kailey and her peers a leg up in the job market, qualifying them for multiple positions, but also set them up for success in the increasingly fluid, diverse classrooms of the 21st century.


Learn more about the B.A. in Inclusive Elementary Education and how it helps aspiring teachers like Kailey:

Download PDF of “The UCCS B.A. in Inclusive Elementary Education”

Westminster’s Interventionist Framework 

When 5-year old Mauricio Avila stepped into Sherrelwood Elementary School, he had already been identified with a developmental delay.

Mauricio’s disability made it difficult for him to follow multi-step directions, recall information, and verbally express himself. He also had a speech and language impairment which added complexity to how teachers approached Mauricio’s needs. His strengths were apparent: his teachers described him as kind, friendly, and resilient. Still, his parents wondered whether the education system would see their son’s strengths—or would they separate him from his peers, exposing him to lower expectations and frustrating him?

The Vision: To prepare students to succeed in postsecondary education, careers, and civic life, learning should be measured by a competency-based system (CBS) that enables students to progress upon mastery of distinct knowledge, skills,
and dispositions associated with a standard

The Strategy: Sherrelwood Elementary School has two unique approaches to learning and student support:

  1. A Move Away From Age-Based Grade Placement: Students at Westminster aren’t all in the same age- and grade-based class for all subjects. Younger and older students work together in a classroom based on their level of competency in that subject. A 5-year-old like Mauricio may be working on foundational skills in reading and language while advancing faster with the right supports in his math class.
  2. The Use of Interventionists: Rather than pulling students out of class to give them specialized instruction, the district has interventionists go into classrooms. They work with teachers to design and support instruction for students who might be struggling in a particular area and for those who might be more advanced, helping create educational experiences that meet all students’ different learning needs and interests.

Teachers at Sherrelwood design curricula and facilitate general instruction as well as small group instruction. This allows Mauricio to learn in a small group setting and to master content and develop personal and social competencies essential to his long-term success. Mauricio no longer feels singled out because every student’s instruction is tailored to their unique learning needs, strengths, and interests.


Learn more about Westminsters Interventionist approach and how it helps students like Mauricio:

Download PDF of “Westminster’s Interventionist Framework”


Policy & Practice Recommendations for Colorado

NCLD identified significant issues confronting the state, and key actions to ensure that personalized learning efforts more fully meet the needs of Colorado students with disabilities. By taking these actions, we hope the state’s efforts will continue to extend rigorous and inclusive learning opportunities that prepare all students for college, career, and civic success.

66%1. In collaboration with districts and schools, the state outlines the knowledge, skills, and dispositions personalized learning systems should achieve for all learners, and aligns reporting requirements, technical assistance, and other supports to this vision.
20%2. The state invests in programs that ensure that implementation of competency-based education efforts are fully inclusive of students with disabilities.
20%3. Both pre-service and in-service educator preparation and training emphasizes the skills educators need to implement personalized learning strategies inclusively.
54%4. Personalized learning stakeholders and advocates ensure that innovation, learning, and the means by which best practices are communicated account for the perspectives and needs of students with disabilities and their families.

Download PDF of Policy &
Practice Recommendations for Colorado

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North Carolina

North Carolina is making a bet on personalized learning. In late 2015, the North Carolina State Board of Education (SBE) passed a credit flexibility policy and adopted a new strategic plan that emphasized personalized learning. The state also emphasized approaches related to personalized learning in its most recent Every Student Succeeds Act plan to the U.S. Department of Education.

Read below for examples of how students with disabilities are benefiting from approaches to personalized learning  in North Carolina, and recommendations for how the state can continue to support students with disabilities in their efforts to customize learning.

Personalized Interventions at Landis Elementary School 

Grasping certain literacy and math concepts felt impossible to 8-year-old Beth Phillips.

Beth was bright and motivated. She worked hard on everything she was assigned. But she still had trouble with decoding, reading, and she couldn’t process foundational math. She was falling further and further behind and she needed customized learning strategies.

The Vision: To connect students to each other and to community members, and to deepen their own personal investment in learning. This vision is guided by four principles: Collaborative, Connected, Relevant, and Personalized (CCRP).

The Strategy:  Landis Elementary found a tool that allows teachers and intervention teams to pinpoint student challenges and identify research-based interventions to address those challenges using a collaborative approach.

Using the platform Branching Minds, Beth’s teachers were sent a survey designed to identify her needs and strengths. Based on the survey results, this tool gave her teachers a list of options and approaches to meet Beth’s needs. As a team, her teachers determined which approaches to take and were empowered with strategies to support her success. Throughout the school year, Beth continued to make academic progress. Her learning path no longer seems like a mystery to her or to the adults who work with her.

The program and the accompanying structures empower staff to more effectively work together, communicate with families on their children’s needs, and strengthen relationships with the student. Through these deepened human relationships and the district’s vision of Collaborative, Connected, Relevant, and Personalized education, the teachers of Rowan–Salisbury are transforming learning and helping students like Beth succeed.

 


Learn more about the personalized learning systems at Landis Elementary School and how they’re helping children like Beth:

Download PDF of “Personalized Interventions at Landis Elementary School”

Lake Wylie Elementary School’s K-1 Combination Class

Dante Samuel didn’t have an easy start in life.

He was born 16 weeks premature and spent the first four months of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit. By age 5, Dante struggled with communicating, had overall cognitive and social functioning issues, and lacked important pre-academic skills. Dante was diagnosed as developmentally delayed. In many educational settings, Dante’s unique gifts and strengths may go unrecognized. Though he is eager, and a good role model for his peers, many people often focus on his challenges. A student like Dante may be separated from peers, retained, and held back by lower expectations. But luckily for Dante, his school, Lake Wylie Elementary in Charlotte, North Carolina, is taking part in a personalized learning initiative—an effort in the Charlotte–Mecklenburg Schools that aims to address each student’s needs.

The Vision: To provide an educational environment that prioritizes “maximizing achievement in a personalized 21st century learning environment for every child” and “inspiring and nurturing learning, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship through technology and strategic school redesign.”

The Strategy: Lake Wylie Elementary uses an inclusive K–1 combination class as one way to address the needs of all students through their whole-child model. With two teachers in the classroom, all students’ individual learning goals are examined and different instructional paths are designed to achieve those goals.This inclusive learning environment has yielded substantial learning gains for Dante: He made 17 points of growth on the Math MAP test and 13 points of growth on the Reading MAP test. He is living up to the high expectations his family and educators hold him to.

Inclusion is a key tenet of our nation’s special education law, but it can be challenging for schools to effectively educate students with disabilities alongside their peers. Personalized learning offers an approach that honors inclusion while addressing each student’s unique needs.


Learn more about the Lake Wylie Elementary School’s K-1 Combination Class and how it’s helping student like Dante:

Download PDF of “Lake Wylie Elementary School’s K-1 Combination Class”

The Role of Project-Based Learning at Warren New Tech High School

For as long as he can remember, James Woodall has found the traditional classroom experience frustrating.

A teacher gives a lecture, but he can’t concentrate. He fidgets, he can’t keep his mind on the topic, and he’s distracted by a number of things around the room.  James was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but even with the accommodations and protections he is entitled to under the law, the traditional classroom structure still impedes his educational success.

The Vision: Students will be active owners and creators of their learning rather than passive recipients of it. They will get more individual attention, more opportunities to collaborate with peers, and more opportunities to practice skills essential to their future success, such as written and oral communication,
collaboration, citizenship and work ethic, technology literacy, and critical thinking.

The Strategy: Using project based learning (PBL), students will gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.

Recently, his history teacher, Michael Williams, assigned James and his classmates a project that connects events in the Civil War with key events in North Carolina’s local history. James was able to take a leadership role in this collaborative group project, conduct interviews with local community members, and present his findings to those community members, his classmates, and teachers. James and his classmates thrive in this environment where learning is relevant and engaging. One hundred percent of students in the class—including others with ADHD—will go on to some form of postsecondary education this year. James plans to enter a two-year program at Vance Granville Community College and later transfer to a four-year school to study broadcast communication and journalism.

PBL should not be seen as an intervention of choice for some students, but as a best practice for all students. Even so, to be sure this approach meets the aspiration of inclusivity, educators and schools must approach it with intentionality.


Learn more about how project-based learning is helping students like James:

Download PDF of “The Role of Project-Based Learning at Warren New Tech High School”


Policy & Practice Recommendations for North Carolina

NCLD identified significant issues confronting the state, and key actions to ensure that personalized learning efforts more fully meet the needs of North Carolina students with disabilities. By taking these actions, we hope the state’s efforts will continue to extend rigorous and inclusive learning opportunities that prepare all students for college, career, and civic success.

66%1. The North Carolina State Board of Education (SBE), higher education institutions, educators, parents, and other key stakeholders collaboratively develop a clearer vision and definition of personalized learning, and work to align existing initiatives to this vision.
20%2. The state invests in professional learning for teachers and school leaders to ensure that both have the skills necessary to implement personalized learning inclusively.
20%3. State and district leaders collaborate on an assessment, accountability, and intervention system that is more actionable and responsive to student and school needs.
54%4. State and district leaders leverage policies and processes to communicate with and engage students with disabilities—and their families and communities—in personalized learning implementation efforts.

Download PDF of Policy & Practice Recommendations for North Carolina

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Programs: