How to Measure Progress Towards Personalizing Learning

By Drake Bryan
February 28, 2020

Districts across the country are transforming educational experiences for young people by implementing personalized, student-centered approaches in their schools. While this is an exciting and welcomed development in education, districts need to know to what extent their implementation efforts are succeeding. And we can’t measure success – or outcomes – unless we can document progress, depth, and quality in implementation.

So how are school districts across the nation measuring progress when personalizing learning? In short, a lot of different ways! There isn’t just one right way to measure progress, particularly when educators are designing and adapting implementations to fit local contexts. However, based on our work at KnowledgeWorks and our observations in the field, best practices for capturing progress do exist and should be considered when beginning this work.

A three-step guide to measuring progress when personalizing learning:

  1. Ground your understanding of district-wide progress by formally adopting or creating a rubric that measures the existence of core principles or conditions aligned with your goals for personalizing learning. For our rubric, we utilize the conditions outlined in District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide to Scaling Personalized Learning©, while others in the field have created their own DIY rubrics or have used Aurora Institute’s five principles of personalized learning as a model to get started.
  2. Standardize your data collection process and decide how and at what level you will be collecting evidence based on your selected rubric. Measuring classroom and district-level impact and outcomes calls for the integration of different types of data collection methodologies and the engagement of diverse stakeholders, but we find that it’s typically best to start simple. Your data collection does not have to be a sophisticated and comprehensive statistical analysis. It just has to capture a rough picture of where you’re trying to go, what is happening, and what folks think about it. For example, you might ask building leaders to evaluate progress on the rubric with a sticker or highlighter before seeking triangulated data through classroom observation tools, surveys, focus groups or interviews.
  3. Analyze the data and use it as a guide to select focus areas in your ongoing implementation efforts. Try to tell a compelling story of what you find: this is what we were trying to do, this is what we did, this is what we observed, this is what we learned, this is what we’re going to do as a result. We find that it’s often helpful to provide updates to staff, students, and parents using visual representations of progress. For example, in the Marysville Exempt Village School District in Ohio, an illustrated rubric on a whiteboard was the beginning of a visible driving force for change. At KnowledgeWorks, we use Tableau (data visualization software) as our platform for visualizing district progress toward providing personalized learning for all students. We love how it translates data into snazzy graphics that explain where we’re at so we know where we should go.

Following a simple three-step guide like the one above provides the opportunity for inclusive design. Measuring progress promotes rich inquiries, improves approaches and actively engages the voices of stakeholders most impacted by the changes. Paying attention to progress measures, in turn, can help sustain district progress in designing and implementing personalized learning opportunities for all students.

This blog is written by Drake Bryan as part of the series “Data with Drake.” Drake is the Senior Manager, Business Intelligence on the Impact and Improvement team at KnowledgeWorks, working closely with the Schools team to help districts measure progress and continuously improve.

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