Extended Learning Opportunities and Equity

November 1, 2015 by

rfaREL-Northeast and Islands sponsored a webinar on October 21 highlighting new research from Research for Action, with the support of funding from Nellie Mae Education Foundation. The report is called Preliminary Results from a Two-Year Study of the Effects of Extended Learning Opportunities on Student Outcomes in New Hampshire.

The goals of the study of high schools in New Hampshire are three-fold:

  • Understand the variation in Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) implementation and participation across the state.
  • Assess differences between the behavioral and academic performance of students in ELO courses compared to students in traditional courses.
  • Understand how ELO participation impacts performance of historically underserved students.

With two guiding questions:

  • How does ELO participation effect key short-term and long-term student outcomes?
  • What school-level factors influence the quality of ELO implementation, student ELO participation, and outcomes?

Given that New Hampshire is in the process of becoming competency-based, with credits expected to be awarded based on what students learned rather than time, the question about school factors could be quite interesting. As in any state moving to competency education, districts and schools are in different stages of the conversion process, with some approaching it as a transformational process in which new values and assumptions are embraced within the system and others seeing it more as a technical reform. Taking into account the degree and quality of implementation of CBE, might there be a difference in the impact of ELOs on student learning?

The study included over 3000 ELOs with a breakdown of online courses (66 percent), community-based experiences (23 percent), and school-based independent projects (11 percent). During the webinar, Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner at NH’s Department of Education, noted that in the past year state policy has changed so that online courses are no longer considered ELOs. He also explained that going forward, students doing an ELO is going to be considered a requirement rather than an opportunity.

The types of credits earned were 4 percent credit recovery, 30 percent core courses, and 69 percent electives. The fact that some schools do not allow ELOs for core courses may have implications for the findings.

Some of the findings included:

  • Higher performing students are more likely to take ELOs.
  • For economically disadvantaged students, there were notable positive results. College aspirations were higher, with students much more likely to take PSAT and SAT. Scores on SAT were higher, as were graduation rates.
  • Academically low performing students had mixed results with few benefits from ELOs. This is really important for all of us to consider because it means we need to be really smart and really strategic about how to construct ELO policies and practices to benefit academically low performing students.

The discussion about this research made me want to better understand the schools that were getting more positive impacts for the academically challenged students – what are they doing that is making a difference? We need to learn from them.

As I listened to the researchers describe the study and watched the questions in the chat room, I started thinking about the equity issues related to ELOs that might need to be considered in shaping an ELO capacity within a district:

  • How is your ELO program designed to support lower performing students and those who might have a steeper trajectory to get to graduation? Consider relevance, exposure to college-level occupations, strength of mentorship, etc.
  • Who is offered and who is taking advantage of ELO?
  • Can students build core competencies and standards through ELOs?
  • Are there any differences in what type of ELOs (type, standards that are included, types of credits) students participate in based on income or academic levels?
  • Are there any barriers to taking ELO that might impact who takes advantage of ELOs (transportation costs, students having adult responsibilities)?
  • How is the school developing habits of work for students so they can be more independent learners and take advantage of ELOs? This is part of becoming college ready, and may not be as developed in families when the parent didn’t go to college.
  • Do all ELOs have to be individual or can you organize them in a more community-oriented way?

That is certainly not an inclusive list. We need to think carefully about this because competency education enables much greater flexibility in where students learn – and we want to make sure we do so in a way that benefits all students.

Thanks to REL-NEI, Research for Action and NMEF for the webinar!

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