The California Linked Learning District Initiative: Five-Year Evaluation Report
Linked Learning, an initiative carried out by the California Center for College and Career, aims to improve high school learning by integrating traditional classroom studies with hands-on learning in real-world settings. Much like the college reforms advanced by AAC&U’s LEAP initiative, Linked Learning focuses on engaging students in their own learning and includes a series of mentoring, shadowing, and internship experiences. As AAC&U’s Ashley Finley and Tia McNair have shown, use of such high-impact practices to engage students can result in significant learning gains and increase student retention and persistence, particular for students from groups traditionally underserved by higher education.
In 2009 the James Irving Foundation created the California Linked Learning District Initiative to pilot the approach in nine school districts and document the results over time. The fifth-year evaluation report focuses on students’ perceptions of their experiences and the skills they are gaining through the initiative. Students enrolled in Linked Learning programs were more likely than their peers in traditional high school programs to report they were challenged by their teachers and that they frequently made connections between their academic studies and the real world. They were also more confident in their communication and group work skills. The full report, along with previous evaluations of the program, is available online.
- Linked Learning students were more likely than their peers in traditional programs to say a teacher had challenged them to understand a difficult topic once a month or more (75 percent vs. 61 percent) or asked difficult questions in class (79 percent vs. 61 percent).
- Linked Learning students were also more likely to say that their teachers discussed how classroom studies applied to what they might do after finishing school (70 percent vs. 58) and that they saw connections between their studies and the real world (70 percent vs. 60 percent).
- More than 87 percent of students in the initiative said they had participated in at least one work-based learning experience.
Students’ Self-Perceptions of Skills*
- Twelfth graders enrolled in Linked Learning programs were more likely to say their studies had helped them to develop many of the “cross-cutting cognitive processes and applications of knowledge” the initiative seeks to inculcate than were their peers in traditional programs.
- In particular, Linked Learning students were more confident in their ability to collaborate in a group to achieve a goal (52 percent vs. 36 percent), make public presentations (54 percent vs. 30 percent), and use information to make good decisions (55 percent vs. 38 percent).
- Linked Learning students were more confident in their abilities and skills related to perseverance and organization, though the gap was smaller.
- Students in Linked Learning pathways also earned more credits—an average of 7.3 more credits in ninth grade and 6.9 more credits in tenth grade than their peers outside of the initiative.
- Tenth grade Linked Learning students were 8 percent more likely than their peers to have completed a recommended range of college preparatory courses, but there was no statistical difference for ninth and eleventh grade students.
- Students in the initiative were more likely to stay in the same school district—a measure used as a proxy for dropout prevention.
Did You Know?
- Linked Learning students were much more confident in their communication and group problem-solving skills than their peers in traditional programs.
- Seventy percent of Linked Learning students had discussed how their studies applied to the real world and what they would do after college.
- More than 87 percent of students in the initiative completed at least one work-based learning experience.
*Notably, many of the skills develop by students in the Linked Learning initiative align with the skills employers say they value most, according to AAC&U’s latest research. Nearly all employers surveyed agree that for career success, “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major” (91 percent) and that “all college students should have experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own” (96 percent). Employers also widely endorsed internships and other applied learning projects as excellent preparation for the economy. Findings from this and other surveys are available on AAC&U’s Public Opinion Research page.