Opportunities to Inform Policy
Schools benefit from the collective efforts of state and district leaders to ensure that all students become ready for college and a career through deeper learning. States and districts already have adopted rigorous academic standards for learning. Leaders also should review and consider policies related to accountability, assessments, educator preparation, and use of time to create conditions that lead to deeper learning outcomes.
Advance deeper learning for students through these policy opportunities.
To support the transformation of schools toward a vision of teaching and learning aligned with deeper learning, state and district accountability systems must support continuous improvement, ensuring all students are ready for college and a career. An effective accountability system must show the performance of student subgroups clearly and transparently to enable the provision of support for students who struggle to demonstrate deeper learning competencies and achievement.
States and districts can strengthen their accountability systems to better measure deeper learning outcomes for all students in the following ways:
- Establish a vision for the accountability system that emphasizes college and career readiness.
- Implement a multiple-measures accountability system that supports deeper learning, which includes at least one indicator of school quality success, such as student engagement, student completion of advanced course work, postsecondary readiness, or school climate.
- Report student outcome indicators, disaggregated by student subgroups, that inform improvement and drive resource support based on need.
Assessments that measure a broad range of knowledge and skills are better able to show whether students are reaching deeper learning competencies. States and districts can review current assessments and, when necessary, implement new high-quality student-centered measures that engage students in authentic ways.
States and districts should implement a balanced assessment system that includes
- formative classroom tests that provide real-time information to students and teachers;
- performance tasks that measure students’ abilities to solve complex real-world scenarios;
- portfolio artifacts collected over time to show student growth; and
- other competency-focused assessments.
States and districts also should provide professional development and support to improve teacher capacity to engage students in a formative assessment process that informs instructional practice.
To achieve deeper learning in the classroom, educators must employ discrete skills that prepare students for college, a career, and life. Educator development should provide professional learning opportunities that support teachers in the design and use of performance assessments to provide feedback to students, facilitate student critical thinking and problem-solving, and connect classroom content and life. Unfortunately, historically underserved students often are taught by teachers underprepared to meet these challenges.
States can support the preparation and development that schools need to implement deeper learning in their classrooms in the following ways:
- Use Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) formula grants to support the preparation, recruitment, and development of teachers, principals, and other school leaders.
- Use federal funds for teachers to conduct ongoing assessments of learning and utilize data to inform instructional practices.
- Support teacher-preparation programs that train teachers to integrate real-world scenarios and rigorous academics to make learning more personalized and engaging.
- Support integrated professional development between core academic teachers (i.e., English, mathematics, history, science), career and technical education (CTE) teachers, and business partners.
A comprehensive approach to expanding deeper learning for students may include policies and procedural flexibility around the use of time in schools. This approach prioritizes content mastery and learning over a previous focus on “seat time.” Rethinking the structure of the school day allows for innovative and engaging curricula and for the meaningful delivery of authentic assessments.
States and districts can support changes in the use of time in their schools in the following ways:
- Encourage innovative models that allow for the restructuring of the school calendar or school day.
- Support standards-based, performance-based credits, rather than those awarded based on “seat time.”
- Expand opportunities for dual-enrollment courses that allow students flexibility in scheduling and course offerings.
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): ESSA requires a focus on college and career readiness for all students through the adoption of rigorous standards and academics as well as the development of broader assessments of learning. In addition, states, may use funds for professional development to build teacher capacity, and create robust pathways to postsecondary education and the workforce.
Perkins Reauthorization – CTE Excellence and Equity Act (Perkins): Perkins is the principal source of federal funding to states and discretionary grantees for the improvement of secondary and postsecondary CTE programs across the nation. The purpose of Perkins is to develop more fully the academic, career, and technical skills of secondary and postsecondary students who elect to enroll in CTE programs.
Improve Practice towards Deeper Learning
Getting students to a place where they can develop deeper learning competencies requires a shift in instructional and learning practices. Educators must embrace a student-centered approach where they facilitate student learning, help students uncover knowledge and design their own learning through real-world situations, and give students agency in their own learning. It is an environment that is challenging and engaging and allows teachers to empower student agency but also challenge students and support those who may struggle
Advance deeper learning with these instructional strategies and practices.
For both students and teachers to benefit, educators must explore a more comprehensive approach to teaching and learning. While a schoolwide model is ideal, educators can implement deeper learning approaches on a smaller scale, which may include the following actions in some form:
- Design curricula with flexible learning opportunities for students that provide engaging ways to demonstrate knowledge and higher-order skills.
- Partner with employers or other organizations to develop learning activities that allow students to make connections to the real world.
- Collaborate with teachers and experts (as needed) to design comprehensive approaches that engage students a full range of deeper learning skills.
States and districts can support the development and use of assessments for deeper learning in the following ways:
- Design assessments that are aligned with rigorous academic standards and emphasize real-world application.
- Review and refine how assessments currently are used to inform instructional practices.
- Explore the use of competency-based assessments, performance assessments, portfolio assessments, or project-based assessments in conjunction with other types of formative, interim, and summative assessments.
- Participate in professional development opportunities that strengthen teacher capacity to design reliable assessment rubrics and analyze student work.
District leaders, school leaders, and classroom teachers can learn to use data to improve outcomes in the following ways:
- Participate in professional development that increases teacher capacity to analyze student assessment data to inform instructional strategies for struggling students.
- Use district and school resources to gather achievement data and classroom performance data to assess student performance and set student learning goals.
- Collaborate with teachers, coaches, and school building leaders to align instructional strategies and future assessments with demonstrated learning needs.
States and districts interested in expanding deeper learning to all students should work together to create supportive environments and use technology strategically to improve teaching and learning. Specifically, in schools that serve large numbers of traditionally underserved students, creating this environment may mean investing in or reorganizing the school infrastructure; investing in staff professional learning; and/or partnering with other schools, districts, and community organizations to create a culture of learning that prepares students for college and a career.
Educators should consider the following ideas:
- Establish a vision for teaching and learning that supports a school culture in which students develop critical thinking and problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and higher-order skills.
- Reflect on existing spaces that can be used to support student collaboration, small group meetings with teachers, and technology and other equipment
- Build the capacity of school leaders and educators to lead a building team that can design content, instruction, activities, and assessment to support deeper learning.
Partnerships for Postsecondary Education and Career
Trends in the economy mean that the fastest-growing jobs are those that require problem-solving and critical thinking. As educational systems aim to meet this need, they require the support and collaboration of local higher education institutions (IHEs) and employers to incorporate deeper learning approaches. By partnering with universities and employers, many schools and districts can implement procedural changes and improve the quality and structure of learning for students.
Employers and local businesses play a critical role in preparing today’s students for a more demanding and complex economy. As employers seek a more innovative and skilled workforce, students can use their expertise in the field to supplement the academic content and learning that takes place in schools. Students who experience real-world situations connected to rigorous academic content are better prepared to succeed and be productive in high-demand jobs of the future.
Employers and local businesses can support the work of educators in districts and schools through the following:
- Connect with the local chamber of commerce to support work already advancing deeper learning for students.
- Partner with district and school leaders to implement programs that support deeper learning.
- Support students’ preparation for college and a career through mentorships, internships, and other real-world experiences.
Students and educators alike can benefit from partnerships between K–12 and IHEs that provide advanced learning opportunities and training. Many districts and schools have limited resources and capacity to provide additional resources for learning, and IHEs can assist in this area.
IHEs can support this work through:
- partnerships with local districts and individual schools to expand early college high school and dual- and concurrent-enrollment programs for students; and
- collaboration with district and school leaders to provide teacher-preparation programs and professional learning experiences to educators that support rigorous and engaging delivery of core academic standards, use of technology for learning, and assessment and data literacy.
Learn more below about how employers and IHEs are making it easier for schools and classrooms to adopt and implement deeper learning practices.
While the Alliance conducts direct and grassroots lobbying activities, no funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation will be used to support direct or grassroots lobbying.