Courtesy of Life Academy High School in Oakland

High school students in linked learning programs are more likely to earn a diploma and are better prepared for college and careers, a new independent evaluation of programs in nine California school districts found.

Students in these programs, which integrate academics with real-world work experiences, also on average earn more high school credits than peers in traditional programs, according to the evaluation by the research group SRI International.

The evaluation is part of a six-year study of districts participating in the California Linked Learning District Initiative, a collaborative created in 2009 to implement linked learning pathways.

The findings released earlier this week are consistent with previous years’ results that showed students in linked learning pathways are generally more academically engaged, leading to increased success in school. Additionally, students coming into linked learning who had previously struggled academically are less likely to drop out, complete more college prep courses, and have higher GPAs than similar students in traditional high school programs.

Linked learning pathways integrate academics with a career-related theme, such as business or health care. Students in the programs typically remain together over several school years as they participate in work-based learning through internships at area businesses, or similar work experience.

The nine districts evaluated are Antioch Unified, Long Beach Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Montebello Unified, Oakland Unified, Pasadena Unified, Porterville Unified, Sacramento City, and West Contra Costa Unified. About 281,000 high school students are enrolled in these districts.

The evaluation concluded that compared to peers, students in linked learning:

  • Accumulated 13.3 more credits – equivalent to 2.6 more courses – over the four years of high school;
  • Were 3.7 percentage points more likely to earn a high school diploma;
  • Were 5.3 percentage points more likely to be classified as ready or conditionally ready for college-level English after taking the Early Assessment Program.

More than 70 percent of students who started out in a pathway as freshmen were still enrolled in the same pathway by the time they reached 11th grade.

“The multi-year evaluation shows that high quality linked learning is making a significant difference in student outcomes,” Miya Warner, an education researcher at SRI International, said in a statement. “These data show the impressive gains linked learning has achieved across the state.”

The evaluation, however, found that linked learning programs continue to struggle to retain special education students and English learners, and college readiness in math did not improve for all student groups.

The California Linked Learning District Initiative is funded by the James Irvine Foundation, which also provides funding to EdSource. EdSource maintains sole editorial control over the content of its coverage.

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