A Teacher’s Perspective on DC’s data-based Personalized Learning Program

Empowering Families and Communities
A Teacher’s Perspective on DC’s data-based Personalized Learning Program

Watching students grow is one of the most rewarding feelings as a teacher. During my second year in a DC classroom, I witnessed a non-native English-speaking student evolve from stumbling through the English alphabet to make a year and half worth of growth in reading. While most of the credit lies with my former student, the achievement did not happen on accident. From the summer parent and teacher introductions – where we, teachers, first diagnosed her literacy challenges – to the cocktail of one-on-one and small group sessions tailored to fit the needs of this student, the academic conditions were prime for reading growth. As teachers, this personalized learning program (PLP) yielded significant academic progress and allowed us to effectively use data, but also set the stage for future improvement and achievement for our student.

As we begin the school year, Washington, DC’s approach to personalized learning programs is one to watch. Back in May, the DC State Board of Education (DC SBOE) unanimously passed recommendations from its High School Graduation Task Force – one of which was to implement a personalized learning plan for each public-school student in the District.

Here’s what DC SBOE recommended: Through the PLP rollout, practitioners would continuously monitor student achievement as they progress toward being on track to graduate with their peers. Periodic checkpoints would ensure that this progress is being monitored – at the very least between 2nd and 4th grade (while students are shifting from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”), at the end of 5th grade (marking the transition to middle school), and the end of 8th grade (marking the transition to high school).

But what’s especially interesting about this plan is that DC SBOE’s recommendations also include roles for all stakeholders – even those outside of the school environment. Caregivers will be encouraged to contribute home-based interventions to PLP plans, and counselors and caregivers may audit students’ social-emotional learning – all while educators continue to measure student preparedness and readiness with grade level math and reading benchmarks. These efforts will not dispose of individualized education programs (IEP), but rather serve as an addition to the information received about IEP students and bolster achievement of general education students.

Why does this matter? Ultimately, DC’s recommendations will ensure that personalized learning programs unite caregivers and educators – operating from the same page with longitudinal data – to support and help hold students accountable in their academic journeys. When the right people have access to timely and appropriate data, students can succeed.

In partnership with the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), DC SBOE plans on launching the personalized learning pilot program in 2019-2020 with expansion in years to come. With 17 states identifying personalizing learning as integral to their vision in ESSA plans, we can only expect for PLP models – like we are seeing in the nation’s capital – to emerge and lead to continuous improvement and growth for kids, just as I saw in my former student.


1. https://knowledgeworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/essa-states-personalized-learning.pdf 

Also published on Medium.