In the last hundred years, the base of the United States economy has shifted from industry to knowledge—but the average American classroom operates in much the same way it always has: one teacher, up to thirty same-age students, four walls. This report from StudentsFirst argues that this one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t cut it in the modern world, in which mastery of higher-order knowledge and skills ought to matter more than time spent in front of a teacher—and that what we need is competency-based education. This approach, also known as the “personalized model,” is characterized by advancing students through school based on what they know and can do, using assessments to give them timely, differentiated support, made easier by the introduction of learning technology. The authors highlight the Chugach School District in Alaska as a leader in personalized learning: it replaced grade levels with ten performance levels, requiring all students to demonstrate a minimum proficiency of 80 percent of the material before moving to the next level. With these innovations in place, Chugach surged from the twentieth percentile in reading to the eightieth on the nationally normed California Achievement Test. Its system inspired the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) model, which is used now in 173 schools serving 80,500 students nationwide. But in order for personalized learning to work, schools must be flexible and focus on competency—a real hurdle.

SOURCE: StudentsFirst, A Personalized Future for Education: Moving into the Twenty-First Century and Beyond (Sacramento, CA: StudentsFirst, 2013).

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