Defining Student Success, Not Just Graduation

by Mary Perry | November 7, 2020 | 0 Comments
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What Do Our Students Need To Graduate From High School?

For a diploma, school districts typically require that students complete specific classes with at least a passing grade and maybe fulfill a few hours of community service.

Is it enough? In the midst of the current pandemic, parents, schools, and communities ought to be focused on a more important question: When students graduate from high school, what does it mean to be ready to succeed in a 21st century that seems so uncertain?

The Power and Potential of a Graduate Profile

Many California communities have already answered that question in a serious and meaningful way by using a Graduate Profile. Although it can go by other names and take different forms, a Graduate Profile is generally a document that is created through a community engagement process involving educators, students, their family members, business partners, community and civic leaders. 

An examination of Graduate Profiles in several school districts reveals some common themes. In most cases, profiles are built around a set of succinct statements that reflect a combination of knowledge, skills, competencies, and qualities.

Academic preparation

Academic preparation tops most lists. In Pasadena Unified School District, for example, the top set of criteria are broadly defined as “Prepared for College and Career.” In its Graduate Profile the district envisions that all its graduates:

  • Demonstrate academic and professional excellence (including content mastery and academic skills in reading, writing, and math)
  • Gather, filter and synthesize information from a wide variety of sources
  • Create new ideas based upon strong content knowledge
  • Acquire strong organizational skills to support academic and personal growth
  • Are prepared for the post-secondary program of their choice in college, career, vocation or employment

21st Century skills

Another set of competencies are often grouped together as “Deeper Learning” or “21st Century Skills.” These are the “4 C’s” of creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. Communities describe these using varying words, but the ideas are reflected in some way in every Graduate Profile. The one pictured here, from Eastside Union High School District, is a good example.

Social-emotional learning

Similarly, aspects of social-emotional learning turn up in various ways in the goals that different communities have set for their graduates. They include such qualities and skills as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, adaptability and flexibility, resiliency, growth mindset, and empathy.

Civic engagement

Presciently – given the COVID-19 pandemic – Graduate Profile designs often include aspects of cultural awareness, community service and civic engagement. For example, Centinela Valley Union High School District has as its goal that “Graduates will act as productive citizens who serve in the community to improve the quality of life…”

Putting the same concepts into a competency they call “Civic and Cultural Awareness,” Davis Joint Unified School District envisions that:

“Students will develop and establish an awareness of the responsibilities of contributing individuals in a diverse society. They recognize and respect the differences in values that may exist between themselves and people from other countries or from varying social and cultural backgrounds.”

Moving “From Poster to Practice”

A thoughtful process to create these succinct statements of purpose can take months of meetings involving students, educators, community members and families. The aspirational goals they agree upon often end up being posted in all of a district’s schools and classrooms. However, those posters can easily become little more than wall decoration unless all those stakeholders, but particularly parents and school district leaders, make sure that teachers, school principals, and business/community partners all take action to turn the poster into practice, and the rhetoric into reality.

Has Your District Created a Graduate Profile?

If the answer is no, what would it take for district leaders to start the conversation?

One good resource for getting started is available from Battelle for Kids (linked here).

If the answer is yes, are there opportunities to rethink business as usual within the context of the current crisis?

What steps is your district taking (or should it take) to change the way students learn, teachers teach, leaders lead, equity is assured, and progress is measured? For example, some districts use their Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) to specify measurable student outcomes that show up in their Graduate Profile.

How will your community define success for its graduates? What will our young people need in a world where something as monumental as a global pandemic can occur? While the prospect of meetings seems a bit far away at the moment, this is a critical time to start asking questions.

Moving “from poster to practice” is pioneering work that requires substantial support. To access that support, over a dozen California school districts with Graduate Profiles have become members of Scaling Student Success, a nonprofit California partnership of school districts and service providers. This growing community of practice is committed to educating the whole child by developing strategies that use Graduate Profiles as the guiding star for school improvement.

Mary Perry is a long-time advisor of Ed100 and a frequent contributor to the Ed100 blog. She serves on the advisory board of Scaling Student Success, a new California partnership dedicated to educating the whole child by leveraging the power and potential of a Graduate Profile to drive transformative change. The Graduate Profiles cited above come from the growing list of participating schools and districts.

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