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Championing Student-Centered Learning Through Legislative Action

February 29, 2024 New Classrooms

Last month, leaders in K-12 education policy came together to discuss the future of learning and the legislation that can put students at the center.

Moderated by The74’s Beth Hawkins, state panelists Lucy Payne from Minnesota, Julie Murgel from Montana, and Stephanie DiStasio from South Carolina shared their top legislative priorities in 2024 for accelerating student-centered learning. The webinar also discussed key trends these state leaders are seeing in the education landscape right now – such as the ongoing conversation on the best way to address unfinished learning – that might impact the current state legislative session.

Julie Murgel, the Chief Program Officer for the Montana Office of Public Instruction, shared the exciting work happening in her state to try to combat unfinished learning through the Montana Alternative Student Testing (MAST) program. Thanks to a rare waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, Montana is replacing the federally mandated year-end state summative test for the 2023-24 school year with a through-year assessment system for schools participating in the pilot. Julie acknowledged that our current age-based assessment system – dictated largely by federal regulations – has always made it impossible to move to a student-centered learning approach completely. Specifically, one test at the end of the year makes it hard for teachers to receive the information necessary to address their students’ unique needs.

Even with their new assessment pilot, Julie is aware of the ongoing roadblocks to personalized learning for students in Montana. In 2024, Julie hopes to see more recognition at the state and federal level of how  innovative assessments can be used to move to a personalized, competency-based system of education:  “With better tools and better ways, we can really start to address some of that unfinished learning,” said Murgel, “and bring real-time data to our teachers, our families, and our students that really help them understand where they’re at and personalize their own path.”

At the end of the discussion, New Classroom’s Deputy Director of Policy and Advocacy, Alex Morris, provided an overview of competency-based trends she’s seeing in state legislatures this year. She shared that coming out of the pandemic, states are beginning to address – like Julie and other education leaders in Montana – the flaws of our age-based, grade-based system. In particular, Alex thinks that several states are realizing that the current model of schooling does not allow for students who are behind to tackle years of unfinished learning and get caught up. That’s why she hopes to see certain state legislatures use the legislative session to advance policies and build structures – particularly in math – to make tailored acceleration for students possible: “Through these structures, states can incentivize and support schools to focus on comprehensive learning growth across the grade span, instead of emphasizing the results of a grade-level summative assessment.” 

New Classrooms is already encouraged by state legislators prioritizing student-centered learning in math this session, including a bill introduced in Kentucky to ensure schools have the necessary math instruction support and interventions. Such legislation provides a glimpse of hope that the future of learning is going in the right direction.

View the webinar recording here to hear more about the evolving shifts in education policy and how leaders advocate for necessary legislation to support student-centered learning.