Moving the needle on student achievement: Fresno Unified School District’s personalized learning initiative

Today’s students will graduate into a world that will be dramatically different – and changing faster than ever. They will enter a workforce where job functions, roles and even categories will be significantly altered, and will face social and global challenges beyond what we can imagine today.

Research recently conducted by Microsoft – “The class of 2030 and life-ready learning: The technology imperative” – concluded that student-centric approaches will be critical. Personalized learning, supported by technology, will help students develop strong social-emotional and advanced cognitive skills – both needed to be prepared for work and life.

At the heart of the Fresno story is a journey undertaken by inspired leaders and innovative teachers to unlock the limitless potential of all their students, through an intentional personalized learning initiative (PLI). They understood what needed to change to best prepare their students for the increasingly creative, collaborative, digitally-infused world they will enter as adults.

To move the needle on student outcomes and deepen learning, Fresno Unified School District knew it had to do more than simply improve access to computers. The district developed a Personalized Learning Initiative (PLI) – a shared pedagogical model centered on student voice, choice, and collaboration, combined with the intentional deployment of technology for every student. The district also supported educators by providing up to 30 hours of training on how to leverage technology to support their teaching, and instituted communities of practice to help teachers learn from each other and continuously improve the initiative.

District leadership understood early on that data would be critical to measure progress and continuously improve the initiative: data about student progress, data about how teachers and students use technology and collaborate, and data about how teachers provide feedback.

Fresno Unified partnered with Microsoft Education to understand how the PLI was impacting student learning and teacher practice.

Fresno’s Personalized Learning Initiative is making a big difference where it matters most: measurable student achievement. Students in the classroom of PLI teachers achieved higher English language arts (ELA) scores on the district’s spring assessment, and exciting outcomes in the California end-of-year state assessments, including increased collaboration with digital tools. Students who had teachers involved in the PLI showed statistically significant differences, performing better in six out of ten subjects compared to those whose teachers were not involved in the PLI in The California Department of Education spring 2017 scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests.

 

Pedagogy combined with technology accelerates personalized learning

 

As the fourth largest district in California, Fresno Unified supports 75,000 students. A majority come from low income households, and 22 percent are English learners. The district represents some of the country’s most economically disadvantaged students.

The Fresno Personalized Learning Initiative (PLI) began in the 2016-17 school year with an initial cohort of 220 teachers representing 12,000 students in 89 schools, chosen by lottery from 440 volunteers.

Key to the success has been the following approaches:

 

  • Establishing a pedagogical model to foster a culture where students collaborate and take ownership over their learning.
  • Increasing access to technology for students and teachers.
  • Providing professional learning and technology specific training.
  • Establishing an online community of practice.

 

Significant improvements in Math and English

 

According to the latest insights, the Fresno PLI is helping students across all ethnic backgrounds achieve higher scores in standardized tests of English Language Arts and Math. And students who participated in the PLI were 25 percent more likely than their peers to meet or exceed California standards in English and Math.

Looking across a mix of student populations broken down by ethnic group, subject, and grade level, students who participated in the PLI achieved statistically significant gains in six of ten subject-area/grade-level combinations analyzed. The initiative is helping students across all backgrounds achieve higher scores in standardized tests of English Language Arts and Math.

'Looking across a mix of student populations broken down by ethnic group, subject, and grade level, students who participated in the PLI achieved statistically significant gains in six of ten subject-area/grade-level combinations analyzed.' Click To Tweet

 

Building future-ready skills

 

The top priority of Fresno Unified School District’s PLI is their students. The district is helping its students achieve strong academic outcomes and develop five essential social-emotional skills

  • Adaptive and creative problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Communications and collaboration
  • Digital literacy
  • Responsible and ethical decision making

Students of teachers involved in the PLI noted a shift in social and emotional skills. By encouraging greater collaboration through digital tools, the initiative is helping students improve growth mindset, self-efficacy, self-management, and social awareness.

After one year of the PLI, students who were part of the initiative were 32 percent more likely to collaborate with their peers on projects, and teachers in the initiative were 27 percent more likely to digitally collaborate to creatively design their learning activities, providing students with new ways to learn.

'After one year of the PLI, students who were part of the initiative were 32 percent more likely to collaborate with their peers on projects...' Click To Tweet

 

The future is bright at Fresno Unified School District

 

There is much more to learn as Fresno Unified expands its PLI to include more teachers and students, but the results so far are exciting. The data shows that more personalized and collaborative teaching practices are driving better learning outcomes.

In addition, there are some key learnings on how to move to personalized learning:

  • A student-centric approach supported by the right technologies is critical.
  • A data and analytic strategy is essential to provide evidence and insights.
  • View transformative educational change as a journey of continuous improvement rather than a one-time event.
  • Establish long-term relationships with partners who are specialists in critical areas.

To learn more about Fresno’s Personalized Learning Initiative and to dive deeper into the analytics from the first year of implementation, sign-up for the full report or access the infographic [PDF].

To further explore the critical skills that today’s students will require to be ready for learning, work, and life, and the role technology will play in this process, please download The Class of 2030 research.

Read more about the Fresno Unified School District here.

To learn more about Microsoft Education and our tools and technology that help foster inclusion and support personalizing learning for every student, click here.