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Home > Blog > REL Northeast & Islands and Rhode Island Leaders Support High Quality Work-Based Learning

REL Northeast & Islands and Rhode Island Leaders Support High Quality Work-Based Learning

Ellen Cushing

Ellen Cushing
Principal Technical Assistance Consultant

Fri Oct 22 2021

Throughout the Northeast region, state and local leaders are investing in work-based learning to increase student access and participation. Considered an effective strategy for preparing students for post-secondary success, work-based learning (WBL) offers hands-on experiences that develop critical workplace skills, expose students to career options, and provide authentic opportunities to apply academic content and technical skills.1 WBL can consist of a variety of experiences throughout a student's academic career (see Figure 1 below). As students progress, WBL opportunities become increasingly intensive—moving from learning about work to learning through work and training for specific career industries. WBL also becomes more individualized to the student's personal interests, goals, and skills.

Figure 1. The College and Career Readiness Center Definition of Work-Based Learning

A New Tool for Assessing Work-Based Learning

Defining Work-Based Learning Quality

In January 2018, Rhode Island's PrepareRI initiative released a memo outlining the definition and standards for WBL experiences. A year later, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) submitted their Perkins V plan, which identified WBL as its quality indicator. To ensure that both state initiatives implemented WBL opportunities with similar rigor and quality, Rhode Island leaders reached out to REL Northeast & Islands for help developing a rubric to assess the programmatic quality of WBL opportunities.

To do this, REL Northeast & Islands began working with a small group of leaders in Rhode Island, representing RIDE and the Governor's Workforce Board, to define quality WBL programs. The aim was to ensure all students have equitable access and opportunity to participate in quality WBL opportunities. The team identified three goals for the project:

  • Ensure consistency in quality for in-school and out-of-school WBL programs
  • Develop a resource that would assess the quality of WBL programs
  • Support local leaders in identifying areas of strength and growth opportunities for increasing the quality of WBL programs

Grounded in the Governor's Workforce Board Work-Based Learning Standards and RIDE's vision for work-based learning, the team identified three overarching dimensions of quality to include in the rubric. For each dimension, the project team identified related indicators or activities that a WBL program should include and described what those indicators look like across three performance levels (developing, effective, and exemplary). The WBL Dimensions of Quality include:

Dimension 1: WBL program prepares students for high-wage and high-demand industries.

  • Support employability skills development for students
  • Expose students to career pathways to identify professional goals
  • Communicate employability skills in key industries / jobs
  • Support teachers in integrating employability skills

Dimension 2: WBL experiences develop employability skills critical for future workforce readiness.

  • WBL experience combines application of educational content and development of workplace knowledge
  • Students reflect on their WBL experience and the development of skills aligned with their professional interests
  • Industry partners inform WBL experience

Dimension 3: WBL program employs reporting protocols.

  • Individualized Learning Plans are regularly updated to report on student learning and professional goals
  • Employability skills development is assessed
  • Policies for quality WBL are established

To ensure that the rubric would be useful to key stakeholders in the field, REL Northeast & Islands shared draft versions with critical stakeholder groups during the development process, including school-based educators; district leaders; PrepareRI representatives; RIDE staff representing postsecondary, career and technical education, and workforce initiatives; and the Governor's Workforce Board Career Pathways Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from business, postsecondary, and adult education. These stakeholders reviewed and provided feedback, which informed the final version.

The new rubric is currently part of RIDE's new Work-Based Learning Implementation Toolkit for WBL stakeholders, which will launch in fall 2021. The toolkit describes the importance of WBL, offers examples of different WBL opportunities, presents the rubric, and shares how it can be used to measure program quality.

Future Plans

Moving forward, the RIDE team will invest in developing a comprehensive data system to ensure that the state's WBL investments are successful. The final stage of this work will include a review of existing state practices to collect, analyze, store, and use WBL data.  Specific considerations the RIDE team will explore include:

  • What are the goals of the data system (longitudinal research, federal reporting, informing state investments, ensuring equity)?
  • What data are needed to achieve these goals?
  • What training is needed to ensure data quality?
  • How will data decisions be communicated to key stakeholders?

RIDE plans to use this data to analyze and evaluate WBL efforts to better understand post-secondary student outcomes, equity of access, participation, engagement, and alignment of WBL opportunities with student interests.

The new rubric can be accessed here: Rubric for High-Quality Work-Based Learning Programs. To learn more about WBL initiatives in Rhode Island, visit the Prepare Rhode Work-Based Learning page. To learn  about our training and coaching projects in Rhode Island, visit the REL Northeast & Islands Rhode Island Pipeline to College and Career Research Partnership page.


1Benefits of work-based learning. Jobs for the Future. (n.d.). Retrieved from .