Supporting the continuous improvement of whole-learner approaches that lead to positive outcomes for all students requires a focus on measurement and the consistent use of data to inform the adoption of the most effective, holistic strategies.

Support a pipeline of researchers to develop next-generation measurement tools.

Measurement drives pedagogy and practice—not only from an accountability and evaluation standpoint, but also by providing critical insights and enabling continuous improvement. Effective implementation of whole-learner approaches requires the availability—and adoption—of accurate assessments and measurement tools that reflect a holistic view of learning and development. While a limited number of validated tools already exist, the continued evolution of brain science and whole-learner concepts necessitates the continued refinement of assessments and tools. Developing these next-generation tools requires additional investment in a diverse pipeline of educational researchers and psychometricians who will drive the creation and interpretation of a robust evidence base, resulting from effective measurement tools.

Create a pipeline of educational researchers and psychometricians who will support the development of next-generation assessments and other tools to accurately measure progress on key outcomes resulting from whole-learner approaches.
  • Create a new Institute for Education Sciences Fellowship program available to aspiring researchers and psychometricians who will commit to the study of effective, evidence-based whole-learner assessments and measurement tools that will incentivize the adoption of innovative whole-learner approaches at scale.

Reward what works.

In order to effectively identify and scale high-quality whole-learner approaches, federal funds should be used to expand a competitive grant program that provides tiered funding based on evidence, and includes priorities for critical elements of whole-learner approaches, including supporting educators, engaging families, and facilitating high-impact partnerships.

Expand tiered-evidence competitive grant programs to support the development, implementation, and scaling of evidence-based whole-learner approaches.
  • Increase funding for the Education Innovation and Research program, and dedicate the increase to support the rigorous study of promising whole-learner innovations. The entities—schools, nonprofits, or other educational organizations—with the strongest whole-learner frameworks, based on clear, measurable outcomes, will receive more funding for their practices, which can then be scaled locally, regionally, and nationally.

Leveraging Partnerships to Scale Impact

America Forward Coalition member Transcend is a national nonprofit dedicated to accelerating innovation in the core design of “school,” with the vision that one day, all young people will learn in ways that enable them to thrive in and transform the world. As part of its work, Transcend partners with a limited number of schools and other entities to build and spread innovative learning models that offer communities a diverse range of outstanding, relevant options to adapt to their unique contexts. One such example of this partnership is Transcend’s work with Van Ness Elementary, a pre-K to grade 4 public school in Washington, D.C. Since 2016, Transcend has partnered with Van Ness to develop a whole-child school model where student well-being is central. This partnership led to the launch of a Whole Child Collaborative (WCC) in 2019, in which Transcend, with the support of D.C. Public Schools, selected five elementary schools to join Van Ness to create models around student well-being, meeting the holistic needs of each student. While the WCC is in its early stages, surveys and observation data show early buy-in and strong implementation of the model, and Transcend expects to continue to learn and improve the model through this WCC approach.

Measure the impact of whole-learner approaches.

Research on whole-learner approaches and the positive developmental impact of engaging, meaningful experiences has advanced tremendously in recent years, but additional research is necessary to better understand the full effect of robust whole-learner approaches.

Brain science tells us that children from different backgrounds exposed to similar contexts will achieve comparably, indicating that the opportunities and experiences children are exposed to—and how they are supported—are the primary drivers of achievement. Put simply, all brains can thrive when conditions are conducive for growth and learning.

Fund greater investigation to help measure the impact of whole-learner approaches on children’s development and life chances, in order to better understand the experience gap and its short- and long-term effects.
  • Fund research at the Institute of Education Sciences on the impact of the experience gap and the impact of whole-learner interventions to improve our understanding of how to identify specific approaches and best practices that will meaningfully shift existing gaps in learning and development.
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