Andover Bright Spot Profile
For the past several years, school districts in the MAPLE Consortium have focused on personalizing students’ learning experience. Andover Public Schools (APS)—a high-performing, above-average-funded district—has been a member of MAPLE since 2016 and, like many other districts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, faces entrenched equity, achievement, and opportunity gaps. Through the leadership of Superintendent Sheldon Berman, Andover has committed to dedicate its resources to investing in personalized learning as a primary way to close these gaps.
In 2016, Andover partnered with the LearnLaunch Institute and the MAPLE Consortium to help the district leadership team understand personalized learning. Working with MAPLE, district leaders identified increased student engagement, greater teacher empowerment, and a more collaborative school community as essential elements to increasing personalized learning. Andover’s shift to an innovative educational model oriented in personalized learning was made official in their 2016 strategic plan and is designed to achieve equity of opportunity and achievement for students.
To make this vision a reality, Andover developed a theory of action to guide its work across classrooms, which focused on achieving four outcomes:
- Caring and culturally responsive classrooms
- Rigorous curriculum
- Progress monitoring
- Inclusive instruction
Andover then developed key structures within its digital learning department, including new leadership and coaches, plus the creation of a digital learning program to support professional development. To organize its efforts and ensure continuous progress, the district adopted an agile approach to strategic planning through the use of “sprint teams,” small groups that establish short-term goals and then regularly monitor, collaborate, and reflect on their progress, making just-in-time adjustments and continuous improvements. In this Bright Spot, we describe and provide examples of Andover’s efforts to personalize the learning environment and access to the curriculum, and to expand opportunities for authentic learning.
Over the previous three years, Andover has made significant progress towards personalized learning for all its students. The district has seen early gains in reading—particularly for students with disabilities and English learners. Although preliminary, Andover’s Panorama Education survey data, Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment results, and analysis of data from its student resume initiative provide additional evidence of gains as well as highlighting the challenges that lie ahead as Andover deepens and expands its personalized learning opportunities across the district. Equally promising, Andover has seen an encouraging uptick in teachers’ and students’ interest in personalized learning activities. For example, Andover’s capstone course and projects have grown from one faculty member and five students in 2016 to 20 faculty members and over 200 students in 2018. The high school’s global pathway track has expanded from one faculty member and 16 students in 2015 to six faculty members and nearly 200 students in 2018.
While still relatively early, Andover’s leaders have gathered valuable lessons that may be relevant for other districts embarking on personalized learning at scale. The following are just some of the lessons district leaders shared:
- Listen first, to a diverse array of internal and external stakeholders, then collaborate on a thoughtful plan that resonates with the whole community.
- Use that thoughtful plan to guide the work.
- Establish sprint teams to implement the plan, ensure continuous progress and make adjustments in real-time.
- Establish an integrated, cross-cutting role at the district level (e.g. Director of Strategic Innovation) to give the work a home and ensure momentum.
- Model Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and use it as a framework to guide implementation (not simply as a checklist).
- Empower teachers to work collaboratively (e.g. through vertical teams and with thinking partners) and lead the work.
- Ensure teachers have tools to help differentiate students’ needs and are supported in using them.
As district leaders look to the future, they are working to evaluate progress and expand initiatives through implementation of a learning management system, expanded professional development opportunities for teachers, and ongoing participation in MAPLE to continue learning from other districts across Massachusetts and nationally.
This Bright Spot offers a roadmap and guideposts for districts considering a shift in their learning systems from traditional models to personalized learning strategies. If Massachusetts’ students are expected to be full and successful participants in a dynamic global economy of the future, the proliferation and ubiquity of personalized learning efforts in districts across the Commonwealth will be an essential component to getting there.