Teacher helping students on laptop in blended learning classroom

One District’s Success with Personalized Learning

With 32 years of experience at the Burlington Area School District in Wisconsin, Assistant Superintendent Connie Zinnen has seen education revolutionize the term personalized learning. Her district strove to differentiate learning for every K–12 student, and technology enabled her to do that. How did Burlington achieve incredible results on the NWEA MAP® Growth exam over the last 5 years? Superintendent Zinnen tells her district’s story here and focuses on their success with personalized learning.

Tell me a little bit about your district.

This is my 32nd year at Burlington Area School District. We have 3,100 students across 7 schools throughout the district. Years ago, we were looking for a way to differentiate instruction at tier one, so we started using Edgenuity®. In the 2011–2012 school year, we incorporated digital curriculum into all of our grades (K–12), and we’ve seen great success with personalized learning ever since.

How are you currently incorporating blended learning into your schools?

We know that students’ [NWEA] test scores are at least in part related to the amount of time they spend in the system, so we have a set number of hours they need to be in the system. For grades K–8, they have one hour of math and one hour of reading every week, as a minimum. Teachers can use the system more as needed, and with our one-to-one implementation, the teachers can integrate the system into their teaching without scheduling a computer lab.

What are some challenges you are struggling with?

We personalized learning before it was a buzzword, and our online curriculum has primarily helped us do that. We have this diverse population in our classroom, so how do we target the needs of each student? We say we do that, but this tool actually helped us do it in a systematic way. It was somewhat of a relief for teachers to know there’s a good tool challenging the upper students and remediating the others if they need it. We can target particular areas, so teachers can assign additional practice if students need it. [Edgenuity] has met our needs, and for the most part kids do well in it, and we think that it’s made a difference.

You have made NWEA MAP® Growth a major goal for your district, and you’re seeing incredible results. Tell me how you’re making that happen.

One of the things we’re tracking over time is MAP® growth, and we’re using that as a measure for school improvement and our overall success with personalized learning. The chart shows that in 2011, we had a lot of scores below the national mean, so we want to be better than that. We achieved this improvement through a concerted effort with digital tools and a school-wide focus. When you look at our data now, you will see predominantly green, which is above the national mean. We start above the mean, stay above, and you don’t see regression. But that isn’t good enough anymore. If we start five points ahead, we need to finish five points ahead in the spring. We’re really challenging ourselves to see growth, and we’re really happy with our results, as is our board.

You said you started personalizing before personalizing was a buzzword. What made you decide to commit early on, and can you talk about your district’s success with personalized learning?

It really comes to the RTI conversation. During tier one, everyone gets universal instruction, but then teachers have to differentiate. We have to give teachers supports and resources [to do that], and rather than having each teacher pick a random solution, we found something consistent that everyone can use. Especially with four elementary schools in the district, we didn’t want to be competitive, and we wanted to find a tool that made it consistent no matter what school you went to. The fact that it works with NWEA and Star, that “magic” that happens was intriguing and time saving for teachers. We can say differentiation, but how can you really know you are doing that? This gave us assurance that for that hour, it really is geared for that student who needed enrichment or scaffolding. Another benefit is that the system replicates the state assessment, so students are at an advantage because they are already familiar with the style and format of questions on these high-stakes assessments. Our teachers liked that, and felt as though it gave kids an advantage.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Edgenuity’s online and blended learning solutions can promote student success with personalized learning in your school or district, learn more here.

About the Author


Emily Kirk

After growing up in the Phoenix area, Emily escaped the heat to study in Flagstaff where she graduated from Northern Arizona University with a BA in Art History. She went on to work and study at The University of Phoenix, earning her MBA. After volunteering to teach English in Chile for a semester, she worked in sales and marketing for a major ocean freight carrier. Throughout her career, Emily has also taught ballet, so she is thrilled to be part of the Where Learning Clicks team where she can combine her love of teaching and business acumen to help transform classrooms.