Personalized Learning Boosts Math Scores, New RAND Study Finds — But Scaling Is a Challenge
July 11 Correction
According to a recent study conducted by the RAND Corporation, students who participate in personalized learning perform better in math compared to their peers. The study also found that charter schools, due to their inherent flexibility, are more effective in implementing and expanding personalized learning programs than traditional schools.
The research was conducted for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focusing on the Next Generation Learning Challenges’ Breakthrough School Models program. This program consists of 40 schools across the nation, 31 of which are charters and nine are traditional schools. The study builds upon a previous report from 2015 and examines the implementation of personalized learning in schools, as well as its potential impact on a broader scale.
John Pane, one of the researchers involved in the study, explains that personalized learning models varied significantly across the 40 schools. This variation allowed for a deeper understanding of how implementation differs across the country.
Pane emphasizes the importance of experimenting with different approaches to personalized learning in its early stages. Without concrete evidence of the most effective method, it is crucial to adapt and learn from the various experiences. However, as personalized learning expands, a more precise model will be necessary for scaling up and ensuring consistent implementation.
The new research conducted by Pane and his team provides a clearer understanding of the positive effects of personalized learning observed in the 2015 study, and how these results can be translated into a large-scale implementation.
The study revealed that students engaged in personalized learning showed a 3 percentile point increase in math scores compared to a similar group of students. Reading scores also showed a positive trend, although the improvement was not statistically significant. These gains were consistent across all geographical and demographic groups.
Pane points out that personalized learning may have additional benefits beyond test scores, such as improving student characteristics like grit and mindset. However, there is currently a measurement problem in accurately assessing these skills.
Another important finding of the study is the challenges faced by students who fall behind at an early age. These students often struggle to catch up, especially when they are exposed to new material at the same pace as their peers. Traditional schools lack effective strategies to help these students catch up, whereas personalized learning addresses these weaknesses before introducing new concepts.
One of the main challenges identified in the report is the implementation of personalized learning on a large scale. Pane questions whether the significant effects observed in the current study would be replicated on a broader level. The report cautions that the positive impact may not be as extraordinary in a large-scale setting.
Pane highlights that when a practice scales up, success diminishes. The report attributes this to the fact that charter school networks, which have pioneered personalized learning, have more flexibility in creating schools that operate differently from traditional districts. Implementing personalized learning in typical schools with pre-existing resources and policies optimized for traditional learning proves to be more challenging.
Despite the challenges, Pane believes that combining the theory of personalized learning with RAND’s early research showing positive results demonstrates that personalized learning is a promising initiative.
It is important to note that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides funding for , the organization that reported on this study.
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