Most districts and schools started their transformation process by creating their graduate profile. Why start here? A few reasons. First, the graduate profile helps clarify your vision for the future. Essentially, it answers the question “If we are successful, what will be true for students?” This conversation is a good one to have (and have again and again) at the very beginning. Second, the profile helps to clarify what learning needs to look like at all levels. If you want your graduates to have strong civic competencies upon graduation, what kind of experiences should they be having? What would those competencies look like in 8th grade? 4th grade? 1st? Finally, the graduate profile can shine a light on systems, structures, and policies that may need to change. For example, if you determine eligibility for graduation based on demonstration of learning rather than seat time, you may need to think differently about grading, assessment, promotion and retention across the K-12 span.
What does it mean to create a graduate profile? It will look a little different in each district or state, but there are a few key commonalities. Here’s what you might want to think about before you embark.
- Facilitate a participatory and transparent process. Who will you involve? Whose insight and perspective do you need? Whose support and endorsement will you need down the line? How can you include traditionally marginalized voices?
- Identify competencies. Obviously, this is a huge part of the process! Each district will land somewhere different. Still, research on learning sciences and studies of future trends suggest that there are three key categories: academic knowledge, transferable skills, and lifelong learning. What will be most important for your graduates in these three areas?
- Clarify evidence. Once you know what graduation competencies are, the next question is this: “how will students demonstrate them?” Yes, this will often include tests or exams, but demonstrations can also include experiences, performances, portfolios, and capstone projects. And often, students may have a choice in how they demonstrate their readiness. As you think about providing options, as yourself these questions: “does this demonstration align to expectations for college and career?” and “are we setting kids up to succeed?”
- Identify multiple pathways. Students on personalized learning paths will not be in lock step towards graduating. Instead, each student will have their own path: different courses, different experiences, different lengths of time. Once you know what graduation competencies are and what they actually look like in demonstration, the next question is “how can we create flexibility to let students find their own paths to graduation?”
- Map backwards. Graduation competencies are really helpful because they give you clarity not just on what it will look like to graduate, but on what learning can look like at all levels leading up to graduation. When you have your profile in place, you can start the work of mapping backwards. This usually means two things. At a high level, it means making sure that students have access to the types of experiences that will help them develop graduation competencies. For example, if “creative problem solving” is a graduation competency, you better be sure students have chances to engage in problem solving throughout their educational careers. More concretely, backwards mapping can mean identifying proficiency targets at key learning milestones. Having this map will tell you what it looks like to be “on track” for graduation at any point along the way.
- Consider related changes to structure and pedagogy. Usually, changing graduation guidelines makes you look more closely at your policies and practices. If graduation is not time based, for example, why would you hang on to time-based policies for younger students? If graduation competencies include real world knowledge and skills, can you shift your credit policies so students can get credit for applied, work-based, or community-based work?
Questions to Consider
- What are your current graduation guidelines or requirements? How were they developed? When?
- What data do you have about graduation in your school or district? Are there demographic patterns in your graduation data? Have graduation rates changed in recent years? Do you have data about students’ persistence and attainment after graduation? What do all these data suggest?
- What do you know about the knowledge and skills students will need to thrive in college and career? How can you engage employers and higher education in this conversation? Families?
- How well do your current graduation guidelines reflect these future competencies? Where are there gaps?
- What will a transparent and participatory process look like? Who will you engage? How will you recruit and include traditionally marginalized voices?