AN EVALUATION OF LINKED LEARNING EARLY INITIATION ACTIVITIES AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PRACTICES IN SEVEN HIGH SCHOOLS IN ONE LARGE URBAN SCHOOL DISTRICT
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This study focused on evaluating the Linked Learning program in one large urban district. Linked Learning is a program linking students to rigorous college preparatory curriculum in a career-themed environment (Oakes & Saunders, 2008). As schools try to better prepare students for college and the workforce, more than ever districts are using programs such as Linked Learning as a solution to ensure student success. There is some research on the overall value of Linked Learning, and its ability to positively impact student success (Adams, 2012); however, limited research exists on the effectiveness and efficiency of the professional development and early initiation activities offered during the early phase of Linked Learning implementation. This program evaluation examined the effectiveness and efficiency of the professional development and early initiation activities in seven Linked Learning pilot high schools in one large urban school district. Survey and focus groups and were utilized to examine Pathway Design Team’s (implementation team including teachers and administrators) perceptions of Linked Learning professional development and early initiation activities and the perceived impact on teachers’ and administrators’ sense of readiness to implement the program. Planning documents and cost sheets were reviewed and analyzed to determine the overall effectiveness and efficiency in achieving intended professional development outcomes. Results from the study found team members to be relatively confident about their own skill level but uncertain about team preparedness and confidence about implementation. Findings also revealed that some professional development activities, such as coaching, were viewed as more helpful than others and effectiveness varied in terms of format, content and timing. The online tool, Connect Studios was perceived as valuable but was under-utilized. Barriers to implementation included a perceived lack of support staff and teacher and administrator turnover, as well as fear associated with accountability measures. Training needs were identified and included more training in designing and implementing cross-curricular projects, integrating state standards, and ConnectEd Studios. The cost-effective analysis indicated the Pathway Design Institute to be the most cost-effective form of professional development. Overall, members appeared to be at varying levels of readiness for implementation. Implications for school and district leaders were discussed and recommendations were provided for improvements in the early initiation and professional development of Linked Learning.