Personalized learning is the key for students

Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner File photoRichard Swerdlow

I’ve said it before, but I need to say it again: The San Francisco Unified School District is one of the highest-achieving urban school districts in California and, by many measures, the U.S. But we also have some of the largest gaps in test scores and other academic achievement indicators (called achievement gaps).

We are working to close these gaps. It is the greatest social justice issue facing our City’s public schools.

Student Potential

Like many school districts around the country, our student population is diverse. Thirty-six percent of students in the district are Asian, 27 percent are Latino, 13 percent are white and 10 percent are black. Nearly 28 percent are English-language learners. The majority qualify for free or reduced lunch, which means they come from low-income households.

We know all students have the potential to succeed in learning. What we have found, and the research supports, is that personalized learning is the key. The more relevant you can make the learning in the classroom to the students, the more you can engage them, and the more they want to learn. You cannot have personalized learning without great teaching.

Improved Approach

It is crucial to understand where all our students are doing well and where they may need help. In order to see the full picture, we have a new type of assessment focused on critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills.

The tests are done on computers and on some questions students must write a constructed response to defend their answer. The tests no longer allow students to simply guess. In fact, they are so precise, we are able to determine which part of a question a student might not understand so that we can look for trends and go back and teach something better.

Here’s the best part: Our teachers have access to multiple data points all year long, and we support them in using it to adjust their lessons and figure out what else students may need to learn.

Reaching our Students

Guided by our Vision 2025 program, we are creating an education system that speaks to four key questions: What type of world will SFUSD students encounter when they graduate? What will it take for our students to thrive in this world? What type of learning environment do our students need in order to develop the right skills, competencies and dispositions? Who should be a part of the guiding coalition of people we need to make this a reality?

It is important that learning mirror the world students currently live in and also allows students to envision what the world might look like in the future.

If we believe that education is truly the steppingstone to a quality life or the cornerstone of our democracy, then every student deserves the best opportunity to become an educated, contributing member of society. I believe personalized learning will get SFUSD students there.

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