I remember when State Education Agencies (SEAs) primarily focused on compliance. However, with the U.S. Department of Education taking a step back from leading on educational initiatives, more and more we’re seeing SEAs working harder than ever to ensure all students have access to quality education.

As I attend conferences and follow the advocacy efforts and publications of organizations that support state education leaders such as the Council of Chief State School Officers, State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the National Association of State Boards of Education, I see common problems of practice on the minds of state education leaders.

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Equitable scalability – When SEAs have educational initiatives they need to implement, the challenge they face is how to scale the initiative to all school districts with fidelity and equity. States face the challenge of respecting local control and leadership of county and district offices AND ensuring that all students across the state have access to quality content, instruction, and the tools they need to be successful. While purchasing decisions still largely remain at the district level, we do see some states purchasing systems for statewide use as a foundation for the other tools districts need to layer on top. These state level purchases may include anything from Student Information Systems (SIS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), Assessment Management Systems (AMS), to Learning Object Repositories. States are often looking for best-of-breed in each system, rather than all in one packages, making open systems and interoperability critical.

Personalization of learning – Education leaders, including state leaders, continue to examine how educators can personalize learning for students. Personalization can range from flexible pacing of learning, flexible content, and a variety of ways for students to demonstrate their learning. Many states, districts, and schools are also shifting towards standards-based grading which examines mastery of learning of the standards rather than an average of a collection of assignments. K-2 teachers have been masters of personalized and mastery based learning for decades, but taking this approach at scale in the upper grades with more students to manage, typically requires the use of quality systems that are easy-to-use, with data analytics that allow teachers to quickly see and understand where their students are along their mastery progression.

Evolution of learning materials – States have been on a steady shift from print textbooks to digital learning materials for many years. Savvy state education leaders understand that in order to properly leverage digital instructional content, whether free or purchased, teachers need a place to store and share those materials, and a way to organize these materials for student access. While an LMS was once a tool primarily for online or distance learning, typical face-to-face classrooms are increasingly also embracing an LMS to manage their learning materials.

5 common insights from state education leaders

Innovative assessments and state accountability systems – The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states with the opportunity to re-examine their statewide accountability systems and summative assessments. Typical assessment and accountability models require students to sit for lengthy end of year tests. A few states are piloting breaking the single year assessment into 3-4 shorter assessments given throughout the year. Some states are looking at predictive testing models. ESSA does open the door to the opportunity for states to connect assessment with the teaching and learning process through formative and benchmark assessments. This approach marries nicely with efforts around personalized learning and standards based grading, but will rely on assessment systems that focus on mastery learning and quality data analytics.

College and career readiness – States are keenly focused on graduating students who are ready for college or a career. This is driving collaboration between the K-12 systems and community colleges and 4 year institutions in the form of internships, dual enrollments, and early or middle college programs. Students are earning credentials and creating digital portfolios to showcase their work to share with future colleges and employers.

I am thrilled that as I continue to engage with state education leaders across the country, I get to learn about the problems of practice that seem to permeate from state to state. When these leaders get together to collectively tackle these challenges, they have the power to make needed change happen. If we all listen, we can learn how we can support them and empower them.

About the Author:

Dr. Tracy Weeks is the Executive Director of K12 Strategy for Instructure. Tracy has been an educator for over 24 years, with 20 of those years in educational technology. She has held national, state, district, and school level leadership positions. At the heart of each of those roles, has been the design of learning experiences that leveraged digital tools, resources, and applications to transform teaching and learning.

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