iNACOL Center for Policy Advocacy

The iNACOL Center for Policy Advocacy leads the multi-stage evolution of policy necessary for the growth of effective personalized learning models toward the goals of high quality, equity, access and dramatically improving student learning to close the achievement gap and ensure every student has access to high-quality, world-class learning opportunities. To achieve this, iNACOL:  

  • Provides lawmaker education and technical assistance on issues analysis and policy development;
  • Responds to requests for support from policymakers and practitioners in the field;
  • Develops the vision of the future of education through transformational policy for systems; and
  • Builds knowledge on policies to support student-centered, competency-based, personalized learning.

iNACOL’S Policy Priorities

The following are the primary policy priorities for the iNACOL Center for Policy Advocacy. Expand each issue for background information, policy recommendations and links to related content.

Create Personalized, Competency-Based Education Systems

Redesigning the foundations of K-12 education to be learner-centered and competency-based will create a system that prepares all students for success. There are multiple entry points for states, depending on their individual policy landscape. States with few enabling policies can support innovative local leaders who are ready to move forward by studying policy barriers and creating room for local innovation. States with enabling policies already in place could consider more comprehensive steps toward transformation.  

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) shifts greater power to the states to pursue a more comprehensive policy approach. New opportunities for states include rethinking accountability, redesigning systems of assessments, and modernizing educator and leader preparation and development systems.

State Policy Recommendations:

Redesign Systems of Assessments to Align With Student-Centered Learning

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) empowers states to redesign their current systems of assessments to better support educators and meet students where they are. States can develop cohesive and balanced systems of assessments with multiple measures of student learning, rather than relying solely on a single, end-of-year test.

ESSA allows state systems of assessments to use a combination of summative, interim, and formative assessments, so long as the results can be combined into a single, summative determination of proficiency for each student.

States can now use adaptive assessments to pinpoint where students are in their learning and measure individual student growth. States can also include performance tasks to measure complex demonstrations of mastery and integrate multiple points of learning evidence.

State Policy Recommendations:
  • Collaborate with stakeholders to develop a clear shared vision for how the state’s systems of assessments will support educators and student learning.
  • In partnership with local school districts, design, build and implement balanced systems of assessments to support personalized and competency-based learning.
  • Ensure systems of assessments provide coherence and support local systems to meet the needs of measuring readiness and identify where students are in their learning, to provide data in real time to support learning and to embed appropriately into the instructional process to support effective pedagogy.
  • Invest in building educator capacity to effectively calibrate on professional judgments of performance tasks and provide moderation within these new systems of assessments.

Rethink Accountability for Continuous Improvement

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states can now rethink the purpose, role and design of their accountability systems, reframing them for continuous improvement of student learning toward new, more meaningful definitions of success through data-rich learning environments.

ESSA requires states to use multiple measures in their accountability systems, including: academic proficiency, English language proficiency, graduation rates, and at least one state-selected “measure of school quality.”

Accountability measures, taken together, should reflect the new definition of student success. Getting clear on the definition before selecting metrics is important to ensure stakeholders are empowered with the information they need to support students to reach the highest possible standards.

Refocusing accountability on continuous improvement means empowering stakeholders with timely information, shared goals, and targeted supports. This is in contrast to systems that incentivize improvement on narrow definition of success through annual rankings and one-size-fits-all interventions.

State Policy Recommendations:
  • Collaborate with a diverse set of stakeholders from across the state, in a sustained and meaningful way, to redefine what success means for the whole child ,
  • Develop a state accountability plan under ESSA to:
    • Align the elements of accountability to the new definition of student success. This process should identify metrics to track and support student growth toward college- and career-readiness and include multiple measures of student learning;
    • Determine how data will be reported and used at each level to support continuous improvement and to provide timely, differentiated supports to meet the needs of each student, such as real-time data dashboards and report cards; and
    • Describe the role and goals of the accountability system. This process should outline how and when students and schools receive supports and interventions and how the system will celebrate and reward success.
  • Delineate how the state will target resources to the students and schools who need the most support.
  • Prioritize personalized, competency-based learning in school improvement strategies.
  • Explain how the state will build educator capacity to strengthen teaching and leadership for continuous improvement of student learning.

Create Innovation Zones and Pilots to Clear the Path for Personalized, Competency-Based Learning

Innovation zones provide pioneering school districts with flexibility from state policies and requirements in order to implement personalized learning models. States can waive rules or regulations that impede implementation of these models.

States can create new learning model pilots to help launch small-scale, short-term programs that localities use to determine how a larger program might work in practice and go to scale. Pilot programs provide an entry point for school leaders and educators to get started — often combining additional flexibility and funding — to design new personalized models to ensure every student is successful through competency-based pathways.

State Policy Recommendations:
  • Establish innovation zones to provide school districts flexibility with state policies and requirements in order to implement new learning models.
  • Set up pilot programs and planning grants to support personalized, competency-based learning models.

Transform Systems to Build Capacity for a Next Generation Educator and Leader Workforce

Creating education systems that work for every student will require building the capacity of educators and school leaders to lead change and design more effective learning environments. By removing No Child Left Behind’s Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) requirement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) empowers states to redefine what it means to be an effective educator.

Redefining educator effectiveness could drive the transformation of educator and leader workforce systems to create a competency-based, integrated and aligned system, designed to build capacity to ensure every student has the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

A few of the most important ways states can create next generation educator preparation and development systems include modernizing pre-service program and credentialing requirements, utilizing micro-credentials and digital badges, and aligning evaluations and ongoing professional development programs.

State Policy Recommendations:
  • Create seamless, aligned and coherent educator and school leader preparation and development systems by:
    • Engaging a wide range of stakeholders to develop competencies that align to the state’s academic standards and reflect the skills needed for personalized, competency-based learning environments;
    • Aligning teacher and leader preparation program accreditation requirements to these competencies;
    • Providing educator candidates with multiple pathways to attaining competency-based credentials;
    • Using micro-credentials as the basis of new competency-based educator credentials and in lieu of seat-time-based Continuing Education Unit requirements for professional development;
    • Creating ongoing, job-embedded professional development to build capacity in educators and school leaders to transition to new, personalized models of instruction; and
    • Aligning state requirements for educator evaluation systems to support personalized, competency-based learning.

Build New Learning Models Infrastructure

A well-distributed, statewide learning infrastructure is essential to implementing personalization at scale. These systems and supports can improve equity by making powerful, personalized learning possible for every student, anytime and anywhere.

Important elements of learning infrastructure to enable transformation of education include:

A. High-speed, anytime/anywhere internet access for each student

High-speed broadband internet access is critical for educators and students to have anytime, anywhere learning at their fingertips. The promise of next generation learning, driven by blended and online modalities, can only be realized at scale when all students, regardless of geography and socio-economic status, have equitable access to connectivity.

Policymakers can leverage federal E-Rate funds and use state strategies such as pooled purchasing agreements, statewide contracts and direct appropriations to significantly increase schools’ access to high-speed broadband connectivity.

State Policy Recommendations:
  • Expand and improve high-speed, broadband connectivity to ensure student opportunities for anytime, anywhere learning by:
    • Examining contracting strategies and pooled purchasing agreements to support cost-effective contracting for schools and districts; and
    • Allowing any K-12 education program in the state to buy off of statewide enterprise contracts to maximize telecommunications investments with public dollars and E-Rate funds; and
    • Exploring state strategies to make free or discounted broadband connectivity available to economically disadvantaged students at home and in their communities for anytime, anywhere learning

B. Secure, learner-centered data systems

Effective data systems allow educators to monitor and report on student achievement and progress, each step of the way on a student’s learning trajectory. Data systems that foster student-centered learning:

  • Chart each student’s learner profile;
  • Capture meaningful assessment data;
  • Allow reporting of competencies and competency levels;
  • Track actionable information to facilitate just-in-time supports and interventions;
  • Store portfolios of student work; and
  • Are accessible to and easily used by educators, students and parents.
  • To better support accountability for continuous improvement, data systems should be capable of effectively aggregating data that reflects actual student competency. In addition, these systems must disaggregate data by student subgroups for state reporting purposes and should be able to pinpoint the students who need additional supports to succeed.

Effective use of data is critical for educators to personalize learning. To protect student data privacy, states should ensure policies promote good governance, privacy and security of student data. States should avoid prohibitive policies that can impede the appropriate use of data for instruction. Balanced data privacy policies ensure proper protection and use of personally identifiable student data while, at the same time, enable personalized learning to close achievement gaps.

State Policy Recommendations:
  • Support the development of data systems aligned to personalized, competency-based learning.
  • Develop state data systems to collect, in real-time, standards-based, baseline and longitudinal data to measure student growth over time to promote continuous improvement.
  • Establish policies for the protection and good governance of student data privacy. Avoid prohibitions that could have unintended consequences for the ability of educators to personalize learning.

C. Open educational resources (OER)

OER are openly-licensed learning materials that educators can share, access and customize. They provide a foundation of customizable content for personalizing learning and increase opportunities for educator collaboration and engagement.

  • Because they are freely available, OER can have a positive fiscal impact, saving limited education funds on textbooks and other learning materials. In reallocating savings from licensing or royalty fees, states and districts should consider the additional resources required to develop the capacity of educators to access and effectively use high-quality OER.
State Policy Recommendations:
  • Ensure content, learning materials and professional development resources created with public funds are made publicly available as OER.
  • Include OER on approved state instructional materials lists and support the development and maintenance of openly licensed instructional materials aligned with state standards.

State policymakers can help support equitable access to, and sustainability of, personalized learning by advancing policies to build and improve learning infrastructure.

Highlighted Policy Resources

iNACOL’s policy resources provide actionable recommendations for policymakers, practitioners and advocates to transform K-12 education.