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New All4Ed Report: By Understanding and Supporting Brain Changes During Adolescence, Educators Can Better Prepare Students for College and Adulthood

Twenty-Two of World’s Leading Researchers on Adolescent Learning and Development Offer Essential Findings That Educators, Policymakers, and Parents Need to Know

WASHINGTON, DC—During adolescence, students experience a variety of biological changes in their bodies and brains. A new report released today by the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) argues that by understanding these changes—as well as the science behind student learning and development—education leaders can take advantage of this important developmental stage to support adolescent learning, close achievement and opportunity gaps, and ensure that students develop the higher-order thinking skills they will need in college, work, and adulthood.

“Early childhood has long been recognized as a key point for an individual’s development and learning, with positive effects lasting long into adulthood,” said Bob Wise, president of All4Ed and former governor of West Virginia. “Recently, however, research has identified adolescence as a second critical window of brain development. As such, adolescence represents a period of immense opportunity and vulnerability, so it is essential for educators to provide students with engaging, rigorous, deeper learning opportunities during this time to maximize their learning and development.”

The report, Science of Adolescent Learning: How Body and Brain Development Affect Student Learning, stresses that the more students engage in challenging learning experiences, when paired with the appropriate support, the more their brain cells grow. For example, working memory skills strengthen when students engage in assignments and assessments that require that they solve complex problems and connect information to their own experiences, rather than simply regurgitate memorized information.

“Adolescence is a ‘use it or lose it’ period when an absence of engaging, rigorous, deeper learning opportunities can restrict students’ brain development now, with implications for the rest of their lives,” Wise said.

The report recommends ways education practitioners and policymakers can support adolescent learning for all students, including historically underserved populations. For instance, educators can positively impact brain development by providing rich learning experiences that connect academic learning to students’ personal interests, prior knowledge, and current events, capitalizing on adolescents’ increased ability to remember personally relevant information. Meanwhile, district and school leaders can provide teachers and counselors with support and professional learning necessary to provide students with guided opportunities to develop social and emotional skills and emotion-regulation strategies as they navigate increasingly complex social environments.

For policymakers, the report notes that Title I, the federal government’s primary source of financial support for students from low-income backgrounds, is allocated disproportionately to elementary schools. It recommends that school districts use new flexibility provided under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to target Title I funds toward high-poverty high schools. Additionally, the report suggests that states use new flexibility provided under ESSA to embed complex performance tasks into statewide assessments to encourage students to develop critical-thinking skills. The report also notes that states can use new opportunities in the recently passed rewrite of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act to develop partnerships among school districts, institutions of higher education, and employers to provide historically underserved students with opportunities to participate in college and career pathways that include work-based learning to develop students’ higher-order thinking skills while preparing them for postsecondary education.

Science of Adolescent Learning: How Body and Brain Development Affect Student Learning is the first in a series of four reports informed by All4Ed’s Expert Advisory Group, composed of twenty-two experts and researchers in adolescent learning and development. Together, these researchers have agreed upon a set of twenty essential findings, or consensus statements, that educators, policymakers, and parents need to know about how adolescents learn and develop. The report lists all twenty consensus statements, but focuses on the five statements centered on changes in the body and brain. Future All4Ed reports in the series will focus on consensus statements related to risk taking, rewards, and relationships; valuing culture, experiences, and environments; and how identity and empowerment influence student learning.

Science of Adolescent Learning: How Body and Brain Development Affect Student Learning is available at

For more information on All4Ed’s Science of Adolescent Learning initiative, visit