Christine Stuart photo
Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents Executive Director Joseph Cirasuolo and Patrice McCarthy of Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (Christine Stuart photo)

Officials from three education organizations said Thursday that personalized learning is the key to improving public education in Connecticut.

The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, and the Connecticut Association of Schools released a paper that argues personalized learning should be adopted by school districts, but not mandated by the state.

“This is not something that can be mandated from the top,” Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of CAPSS, said. “You just don’t produce this kind of change by coming up with a formula, some cookie-cutter approach and tell everybody to do it.”

What is personalized learning?

Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools, said it’s recognizing that all children learn differently and it’s about helping them learn the way they learn best. For example, if a grade schooler is interested in dinosaurs, it’s giving him an assignment related to dinosaurs that allows him to demonstrate his abilities.

“Everybody wants to have the time they need to learn something and everybody wants to be taught in the way that they learn,” Cirasuolo said.

He said the paper the organizations released Thursday says they want to encourage that process.

But the largest teacher union in the state doesn’t believe this is a silver bullet.

“While we support the overall concept of personalized learning, it is not the transformational silver bullet public schools require, and everyone should be wary of rushing too quickly to implement it,” Connecticut Education Association Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said Thursday. “Personalized learning strategies should not be mandated by the state, but rather developed locally with parental, educator, student, and community input — and only with assurance that quality training, proper funding, and equitable resources will be in place.”

Cirasuolo said the group isn’t asking the state Education Department to mandate personalized learning. However, the paper identifies a number of barriers to allowing districts to voluntarily move in this direction.

One of those barriers is the way in which teachers are evaluated. According to the paper, the current teacher evaluation system uses grade-based student achievement as a primary way to measure teacher effectiveness. It suggests that an evaluation system based on evidence of student growth and and progress toward the district goals as a better measure of learning.

But in just one month the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests will be given to students throughout the state. The tests are new and as controversial as the Common Core standards they are expected to test.

Niehoff said the new SBAC tests actually allows teachers to give students a “formative” test when they think they’re ready for it. That’s in addition to the ones scheduled to be given during certain times of the year.

Patrice McCarthy, deputy executive director and general counsel of CABE, said the organizations see personalized learning as complementary to the new SBAC testing system and the Common Core standards.

“What we’re really saying is: How can we help each individual student make sure that they’re successful in meeting those new standards?” McCarthy said.

Cirasuolo said they’re not advocating against standardized tests, but “it’s how you use them that makes a difference.”