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Rigorous, Engaging Course Work Linked to Positive School Climate, Narrowed Achievement Gap in New Alliance Report

Press Release:

Rigorous, Engaging Course Work Linked to Positive School Climate, Narrowed Achievement Gap in New Alliance Report

“Engaged students are motivated students, and motivated students succeed, every time,” says Gov. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education.

WASHINGTON, DC –A new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education examines how implementing rigorous and engaging curriculum aligned with college- and career-ready standards fosters positive school climates in which students are motivated to succeed, achievement gaps narrow, and learning and outcomes improve. The report, Climate Change: Providing Equitable Access to a Rigorous and Engaging Curriculum, includes federal, state, and local recommendations for increasing access to high-quality, high-standards curriculum for all students and is the third in the Alliance’s series on school climate.

“One of a school’s main goals should be to engage students—whether through work-based learning opportunities that apply classroom knowledge to real life or through high-level courses that give them the chance to earn college credits,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Engaged students are motivated students, and motivated students succeed, every time.”

Citing several studies, including data analysis from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the report finds that access to rigorous and engaging curriculum that prepares students for college and a career is associated with higher academic achievement and provides students with opportunities to apply what they learn in the classroom to their lives in school and beyond. Students are also more invested in their own learning, show higher attendance, and have a more positive school experience.

Unfortunately, providing access to rigorous and engaging curriculum is a challenge that many schools face—particularly those with high percentages of students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, and English language learners. Citing data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, the report notes that these traditionally underserved student groups are less likely to attend schools with the resources to provide high-quality, challenging course work and have fewer options for Advanced Placement courses than white and affluent students.

The report places some of the blame for the lack of access to a rigorous and engaging curriculum on the No Child Left Behind Act, which it says emphasized test-based accountability at the expense of student engagement and failed to provide students with different learning styles with increased and varied opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned.

The report includes recommendations at the federal, state, and local levels for increasing access to a rigorous and engaging curriculum. These include implementing deeper learning, which focuses on communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills; linked learning, which incorporates industry-specific skills into a high school education; and dual enrollment, where students receive high school and college credits simultaneously. The report also recommends supporting, at the federal level, the development and implementation of technology that can offer specialized and advanced courses to all students; increasing funding for AP courses at the local level; and focusing on high-quality teacher preparation.

“Our nation needs students who can compete in a global, knowledge-based world. As educators, parents, and policymakers, we owe it to our students to challenge and engage them through high-quality curriculum that is aligned with college and career-ready standards in every school,” said Wise.

The full report is available online at

All of the reports in the Climate Change series are available online at


The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC–based national policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring all students, particularly those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.

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