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How Personalization, Done Well, Will Preclude Traditional “Standardized Metrics”

May 7, 2016

Julia Freedland Fisher, the Christiansen Institute’s lead writer, posted an article in their weekly blog titled “The Inconvenient Truth About Personalized Learning” which is that education research model needs to change. The article presents a logical and compelling argument to support its assertion, emphasizing the need for researchers to go beyond determining which kinds of personalization models improve average performance of students “….to determining what works, for which students, in what circumstances?

By the end of the article, I found myself frustrated with the conclusions Ms. Fisher drew because she had not really offered a different method of measuring the effectiveness of personalized learning. Before leaving a comment I read the handful left on the post and found myself concurring with commenter Matt Bowman, who expressed one of my concerns when he wrote: “Any attempt to create “standardized metrics” for “personalized education” is a complete contradiction.” In the comment I left I took his critique a step further. I believe that done well, personalized learning will necessarily do more than “reorganize space, integrate technology tools, and free up seat-time” as Ms. Fisher wrote, it will also force public schools to abandon the batching of students into age-based cohorts which, in turn, will make any kind of “standardized metrics” impossible. If one looks at what Vermont is attempting in setting its standards for secondary students it quickly becomes clear that any kind of “standardized metrics” will NOT work and any instruction that ISN’T personalized will fail to help students achieve their personalized learning plans… unless those learning plans are to complete a traditional curriculum in the traditional time span.

The term “personalization”, like the term “reform”, has been expropriated by profiteers who want to focus first and foremost on data collection… and once data is collected there is a natural inclination to use the data to compare students to each other. Those comparisons are insidious and undercut the kind of personalized education Vermont envisioned when it passed its laws a few years ago and the kind of personalization that will compel teachers to gain a deep understanding of what motivates their students and for schools to ensure that every student is known well by at least one adult… and here’s the REAL inconvenient truth: that kind of outcome cannot be captured by a “standardized” assessment.

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