A growing number of schools are backing an effort that helps align learning to an individual student’s needs

Five Lake County (Fla.) schools are working this year to give students more personalized lessons, ones that allow them to move ahead faster, if they are ready, or to get more tailored help, if they are struggling.

It is an approach that has won support from national education foundations, Florida lawmakers and the eighth graders in advanced language arts at Windy Hill Middle School in Clermont.

“If one kid didn’t understand … it’s not like the teacher has to repeat the lesson to the entire class,” said Neisha Hassan, 13. “The personalized learning is very good.”

But the national push for more “competency-based education,” as the effort is also known, has prompted harsh criticism from some parents and school advocates who fear it will lead to more testing and more online instruction, to the benefit of corporations selling software and the detriment of students.

“The testing industrial complex is not giving up easily, working eagerly to establish what could mean testing every day. It is called competency-based education,” wrote Stephen Krashen, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California and education activist, on his blog last month.

He went on to call the effort a “a radical and expensive innovation” to replace “regular instruction” with online learning.

Next page: What Florida lawmakers say about personalized learning