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 Alliance”). 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.
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. 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 define college- and career-ready standards in a way that encourages deeper learning. 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.” 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.
To read the full report, please visit http://www.all4ed.org/files/DeeperLearningInNCLBWaivers.pdf