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Personalized Learning Policy Director Karla Phillips Featured in Education Week

• Karla Phillips

This commentary, “What Should Betsy DeVos Prioritize?” was first published in Education Week on February 28, 2018.

Now just over a year in office, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos continues to be a lightning rod in the field of American education. The debate over her K-12 philosophy and policy ideas remains vigorous in many quarters. Education Week’s opinion editors were interested in hearing from people in the field about what they believe matters most when it comes to schooling children. To that end, we asked a handful of participants to briefly consider if they were given the chance to sit down with the secretary, what issue or course of action would they urge her to prioritize, and how would they make their case. This is what they had to say.

Education advocates and policymakers have spent decades debating what students should know and how to measure it. There is an opportunity now to seize on the growing consensus that meeting students where they are and personalizing their learning is not only a moral imperative, but possibly the only way we can truly ensure college- and career-readiness for all students.

Education advocates across the board agree that states need flexibility and support to ensure student success. But how much flexibility can be provided to states and schools without sacrificing accountability, equity, and quality? States must have the freedom to take the lead in answering this question. Fortunately, the implementation of the Every Students Succeeds Act creates the opening for states to do this by requiring essential, annual assessments while also offering flexibility around how students are evaluated.

Overhauling a statewide assessment system takes time and commitment, as any state leader knows. It also requires an understanding of which assessment approaches best support personalized learning and new college and career pathways, academic programs that are already underway in many classrooms.

The Education Department can help by highlighting opportunities for flexibility under ESSA and by sharing best practices. For example, states should be engaging with a number of assessment ideas that are evolving to better measure student success, including computer-adaptive testing. There are exciting examples of putting states in the driver’s seat that can be shared and collectively improved as states find what works best, but I encourage the department to guide states to approach these assessments boldly. The Education Department should promote collaboration through networks and consortia while providing policy guidance on technical issues.

The department can lead by ensuring parties keep their eyes on the ball. The goal should be to discover better ways to measure student success while promoting accountability and equity in quality learning environments.

About the author

Karla Phillips

Karla is Policy Director for Next Generation Learning at ExcelinEd. Previously, she served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent of Policy and Programs at the Arizona Department of Education. Karla also served as the Education Policy Advisor for Governor Brewer and as the Vice-Chair of Arizona’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Her experience includes serving as Director of State Government Relations for Arizona State University (ASU) and as a senior policy advisor for Arizona’s House of Representatives. Karla received her B.A. from Indiana University and an M.P.A from Arizona State University.