State applications for waivers under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act vary in the degree to which “deeper learning” skills are reflected in the standards, accountability systems, professional development, and teacher evaluations proposed by states, according to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The report, Providing Greater Opportunities for Deeper Learning in NCLB Waivers, finds that state plans tend to generally reflect deeper learning competencies in their college- and career-ready standards but not in their teacher professional development and evaluation systems. It argues that deeper learning provides students with the deep content knowledge they need to succeed after high school and the skills that today’s jobs demand.
“By adopting the common core state standards in English language arts and mathematics, forty-six states and the District of Columbia are saying that all students must be educated to the same high levels of achievement,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “The nation’s education infrastructure needs to respond much more rapidly to support this important shift in goals.”
The report notes that the term “deeper learning” may be new, but its basic competencies are routine educational practice for many accomplished educators as well as some high-performing schools.1 The U.S. economy can only thrive, argues the report, if the whole population is equipped to succeed in the modern workplace. Meeting this goal requires adopting college- and career-ready standards and ensuring that all teachers have the instructional skills and support needed to create deeper learning in their classrooms.
To determine the extent to which states are coordinating standards, teacher professional development, and teacher evaluations with deeper learning, the Alliance reviewed waiver applications from the eleven states that recently received waivers under NCLB and the twenty-seven additional waiver applications now pending approval from the U.S. Department of Education. In the report, the Alliance chose to feature six states—Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington—to ensure balance in geographic location and between states that earlier received Race to the Top grant funding and those that did not.
In conducting its analysis, the Alliance focused on three main components: (1) whether state waiver applications define college- and career-ready standards in a way that encourages deeper learning; (2) the extent to which state plans for teacher professional development include instructional strategies for deeper learning competencies; and (3) the extent to which teacher evaluations encourage opportunities for deeper learning.
Regarding the first component, the report finds that most states—including all six featured in the report—define college- and career-ready standards in a way that encourages deeper learning. In Delaware, for example, the state plans to prepare all students for success in the global economy by teaching them to use “critical thinking skills, higher-order thinking skills, and more complex real-world skills,” a definition that reflects several of the deeper learning competencies. Georgia’s definition is similar and says that all students will “graduate from high school with both rigorous content knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge through higher-order skills, including, but not limited to, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration,” a definition that includes four of the five deeper learning competencies.
When it comes to the second and third components—the extent to which deeper learning competencies are reflected in the professional development and teacher evaluation systems proposed by states—the report finds several variations. In Massachusetts, for example, deeper learning competencies are reflected in teacher evaluations, including district-determined measures of student learning across grades and subjects, such as student portfolios and project-based learning. At the other end of the spectrum is Oregon, where deeper learning is reflected in standards for students, but it is not reflected in the state’s plan for professional development and teacher evaluation. Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, and Washington fall somewhere in the middle.
The report cautions that the waiver applications only provide an indicator of states’ plans in regard to deeper learning, but they “can serve as a starting point for encouraging states to evaluate how, and to what extent, they are supporting deeper learning as they implement the policies and practices outlined in their applications.”
- The report notes that states will have additional opportunities to incorporate more practices of deeper learning as the application process moves forward and states begin to implement their approved plans. There will also be opportunities for the twenty-seven states with pending applications to incorporate these practices as well. To ensure that deeper learning competencies are better reflected in state plans, the report recommends that policymakers consider the following recommendations:Include the five competencies of deeper learning in the state definitions of college and career readiness.
- Provide professional development that focuses on instructional strategies for developing deeper learning competencies.
- Create and implement teacher evaluation systems that measure instructional practices in support of deeper learning such as teacher observations and assessment of student work and performance, including portfolios, project-based learning, and higher-order tests designed to measure these competencies.
Providing Greater Opportunities for Deeper Learning in NCLB Waivers is available here.
1 Deeper learning competencies prepare students to (1) know and master core academic content; (2) think critically and solve complex problems; (3) work collaboratively; (4) communicate effectively; and (5) be self directed and able to incorporate feedback.