Panel Paper: Personalized Learning in High Schools

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Wilson A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Laura S. Hamilton1, Elizabeth D. Steiner1, Elaine Wang1, Laura Stelitano2, Karen Christianson1 and Kaitlyn Kelly2, (1)RAND Corporation, (2)University of Pittsburgh

High schools in the U.S. are working to prepare all students with the academic, social, and emotional skills needed for postsecondary success, but sizable gaps in academic achievement and graduation rates among socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups persist. To address these challenges, some schools are adopting models and instructional practices commonly known as “personalized learning” (PL). Broadly, PL describes instruction that is focused on meeting students’ individual learning needs in a way that is informed by their interests and preferences. Recent research suggests that these approaches show promise for improving student academic, social, and emotional outcomes, but few studies have examined high schools specifically. Little is known about how instructional practices in PL-focused schools compare with those in high schools nationally. This study gathered data to understand PL instructional practices, barriers, and supports in a set of schools that emphasized PL and in a national sample of high schools.

This paper compares survey results from 16 PL schools to a nationally representative sample and discusses challenges and facilitators to implementation. Data sources in the PL schools included principal, teacher, and student surveys; interviews with teachers, principals, and district staff; student focus groups; and instructional artifacts (e.g., summative assignments, assessment rubrics). We collected survey data from nationally representative samples of teachers and students and analyzed the qualitative data using a thematic codebook and derived codes from the data to analyze questions of interest. We summarized implementation of PL practices in both samples and synthesized across data sources to identify challenges and facilitators related to broader implementation. We compared student and teacher results from the PL schools with results from the national surveys to identify ways in which the reported practices in the PL schools differed from those in the national samples.

Majorities of teachers in both samples reported implementing personalized and mastery-based instructional practices. Although PL teachers reported more-extensive use of some innovative practices than teachers nationally, the differences were not as dramatic as interview descriptions of PL schools would suggest. Analyses of teacher interviews and instructional artifacts in the PL schools suggest that PL instructional practices are not always consistently implemented, raising concerns about the extent to which instruction was truly personalized. Teachers in both samples identified challenges to implementing PL approaches, but the specific obstacles differed between groups. Teachers in the national sample were more likely to report that lack of flexibility in the curriculum was an obstacle, while PL teachers were more concerned about the quality of available curriculum materials and the time needed to develop personalized instructional materials. Teachers in both samples perceived access to high-quality data systems to be a challenge. In sum, successful implementation of PL approaches requires appropriate supports for teachers to select and develop curriculum materials, high-quality data systems, and systems to promote consistent practice and data-driven improvement. The paper offers several recommendations for policymakers who are interested in supporting innovation among high schools.

Full Paper: