Resources to Support Teaching and Learning Virtually Due to COVID-19.
Header image

American Institute for Research Study Finds Students Attending Deeper Learning High Schools Are More Likely to Graduate On Time

  • Date

  • Author

    Alexis Margolin

First comprehensive study also finds higher probability of attending four-year colleges, better results for students on standardized assessments, stronger academic engagement and collaboration skills.

WASHINGTON, DC – A study released today by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) found high school students attending “deeper learning” schools are more likely to graduate on time, with a difference of 9 percentage points. The term deeper learning refers to a set of educational outcomes including mastering academic content; critical thinking and problem solving, communication, and collaboration skills; learning to learn; and development of an academic mindset. These graduation results held true for a range of schools using various approaches to achieving deeper learning outcomes. According to a longitudinal study by the Center for Public Education, on-time graduates have better outcomes in every aspect of life including academic, career, civic and health.

“Until recently, the evidence base regarding deeper learning’s impact was limited. The AIR study is among the strongest evidence yet of deeper learning’s promise to help students master the learning necessary to succeed and to keep pace with the seismic environmental and social changes that are recalibrating America’s future,” said Barbara Chow, program director for education at the Hewlett Foundation, which funded the study. “If high school graduates today can demonstrate that they can solve complex problems because they have mastered deeper learning competencies, they are not only much more likely to be successful in college and career as an adult tomorrow, but also be better prepared for civic and everyday life.”

The AIR study responds to a clarion call for more research on deeper learning from a 2012 National Research Council (NRC) report entitled Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. The NRC validated deeper learning’s emphasis on critical reasoning and a suite of other cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills that allow students to master rigorous academic content as well as learn how, why, and when to apply knowledge to answer questions and solve problems.

Dr. Jennifer O ’Day of AIR stated, “This study is the first comprehensive look to understand if there were differences in what students experienced and learned by attending a school in the deeper learning community of practice instead of a nearby school serving similar students. The results are very promising, and we need to invest more time and energy to further understand what appear to be early indicators of success.”

AIR analyzed opportunities and outcomes for students attending schools in the Deeper Learning Network (DLN) community of practice. The researchers selected 13 moderately or well-implementing network schools for the study, and, for each, they selected a non-network school as a comparison. The DLN and comparison schools featured in the study are all public high schools with traditionally underserved student populations including students of color, English language learners and students from low-income families. Additionally, each network school and its comparison school had similar incoming student achievement rates and comparable levels of federal, state, and local funding.

All told, the AIR study’s rigorous, quasi-experimental study of matched schools found:
- HIGHER GRADUATION RATES: Students who attended the network schools graduated on time at statistically significantly higher rates;

- MORE 4-YEAR COLLEGE ATTENDENCE: After graduation, students who attended network schools were more likely to attend a four-year college and enroll in more selective institutions.

- BETTER TEST SCORES: Students who attended network schools achieved higher standardized test scores, including state assessments and an OECD PISA-based test. These assessments measure core content knowledge and complex problem solving skills;

- STONGER INTERPERSONAL AND INTRAPERSONAL SKILLS:  Students who attended network schools reported higher levels of academic engagement, collaboration skills, motivation to learn and self-efficacy;

- GREATER OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN: While in school, students who attended network schools benefited from greater opportunities for deeper learning through such practices as project-based learning, internship opportunities, and longer-term cumulative assessments; and

- EQUITABLE OPPORTUNITIES AND OUTCOMES: Attending a network school benefited diverse groups of students. Regardless of a background or incoming achievement levels, students who attended network schools achieved the same positive deeper learning outcomes.

“This quantitative research affirms what I found in my recent qualitative look at schools that are part of the deeper learning movement. They reimagine in powerful ways the traditional definitions of what it means to be a student and a teacher,” said education expert Dr. Monica Martinez, author of Deeper Learning: How Eight Innovative Public Schools Are Transforming Education in the Twenty-First Century. “The strategies that lead to these notably improved outcomes should be the new norm for all schools and all students. In deeper learning schools, students are empowered to become critical thinkers and problem solvers who can master academic content and direct their own learning. Teachers are given multiple opportunities to collaborate as professionals to develop creative and engaging learning experiences.”

“Deeper Learning provides us a new North Star for education. The positive outcomes found by this study confirm that we are on the right path. Our teachers have embraced deeper learning and, as a result, our students are receiving an education that engages them and enables them to master the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed,” said Ron Berger, Chief Academic Officer of Expeditionary Learning, a member of the DLN.

"This report shows clearly how ‘deeper learning’ can provide students critical communication and teamwork skills,” said Rob Lapsley, president of California Business Roundtable and ReadyNation member, an initiative comprised of business and civic leaders. When employees enter the workforce knowing how to learn, think and collaborate with others, they are much more likely to be successful in their professional careers.”

To read the Evidence of Deeper Learning Outcomes summary and full report, visit:


About the American Institutes for Research

Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity.

About The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been making grants since 1967 to help people build measurably better lives. The Foundation concentrates its resources on improvements in education, the environment, global development and population, performing arts, philanthropy, and makes grants to support disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.