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Quality Drives Equity: Why Linked Learning Certification Matters

February 17, 2021 | Miya Libes

The Linked Learning Alliance has set a goal: 1 million students in Linked Learning certified pathways by 2030. This goal reflects the critical role certification plays in the Linked Learning movement. When pathways begin their certification journey, they underscore the revolutionary change taking place in their high school, and schools around the country. Scaling Linked Learning through certification shows how real, relevant opportunities to explore industry through work-based learning, authentic assessment, and integrated curricula in a supportive academic environment can change the trajectory of a young person’s future. As Roneeta Guha, Vice President of Strategy and Impact noted during our recent Certification Platform Launch webinar, “Scale requires quality to achieve equity—the North star for our work. Research tells us that to achieve positive outcomes for students, the four components of Linked Learning really have to be implemented in ways that deliver high-quality classroom and workplace experiences.”

In order to scale this work and to reach our goal, the Alliance recognized the need to enhance a system that supports pathways, students, and communities as they work towards certification. Following extensive outreach, research, feedback, and creation, the Alliance has launched a new certification platform that emphasizes how pathway work is a collaborative journey and process of continuous improvement. Unlike the previous certification systems of siloed work, the new system integrates a pathway’s journey from candidacy, through Silver and Gold certification, and recertification. The new platform better integrates pathway data, allowing leaders and stakeholders to see areas of success and areas for growth, with an eye towards equity. Not only does the data component allow the Alliance to see the positive change happening, and advocate for this work, but it also creates opportunities for pathways to use this information to better advocate for their own work and to show their stakeholders the experiences they are providing for their students and communities. Pathway teams will have greater access to resources such as exemplars, templates, documents, and their past certification artifacts, while also having a more streamlined line of communication with the Linked Learning certification team and reviewers, all built within the platform functions.

Certified pathways have strong outcomes for students, but certification is not an exercise in checking boxes and compliance exercises. It is the opportunity for pathway teams of practitioners, community members, and students to articulate the high-quality work they have been doing. Pathways are reviewed by other practitioners and experienced members and leaders of the Linked Learning field. The quality programs that participate in and complete the certification process are drivers of equitable outcomes for their students. During the launch of the Certification Platform, Edward Steinhauser, Vice Principal of Wilson High School in Long Beach Unified School District, and a participant in the platform pilot process shared what he saw as the value of the certification process through the new platform:

The biggest take away for me of what the value add for this is, is really synthesized as a road map. This really serves as a roadmap for what our pathway teams need to look at and assess and capture the evidence of our work that we’re doing so that we can work towards silver certification and gold certification…I’m really excited about the comparative data of our pathways to the district data. In Long Beach Unified we are wall to wall pathways and want to move all of our student in our community forward. So, making sure that our pathway is supporting that work is a nice metric for us to constantly look at and assess that we are doing as a pathway.

In addition to the academic components of Linked Learning certified pathways, student supports are a key aspect of certification and the resulting positive outcomes. The Alliance heard from educators that in the early days of distance learning due to COVID-19, students that were involved in Linked Learning certified pathways were more engaged and showing up to virtual classes because of the community of support and engaging, relevant, and integrated schoolwork inherent in certified pathways. In response to a Linked Learning survey conducted in spring 2020, 81% of seniors responded that “keeping a strong connection with teachers is helpful.”

As the Linked Learning field works to expand and reach the goal of one million students in Linked Learning Gold certified pathways by 2030, we must continue to keep quality at the forefront of our work if we want to address and combat inequity. Certified pathways bring to all students what only some have today: access to high-quality, rigorous opportunities to explore college and career paths in a nurturing environment of peers, educators, and mentors. Through field-tested and research-backed certification standards, educators, schools, districts, and communities begin a journey to reimagine what high school can look like, focused on providing all students, regardless of background, with the skills and knowledge to succeed in college, career, and life.