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Aurora Institute

What if… We Had Graduate Profiles for Elementary and Middle School?

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Lead Change and Innovation

There is more and more attention to the development of high school graduate profiles at the district and state level, which are providing a much more well-rounded idea of what we want for students upon graduation beyond a number of credits. These profiles, such as the one from South Carolina highlighted here, include academic knowledge and a range of different skills. At CompetencyWorks, we think of them in three buckets: academic knowledge; transferable skills needed to apply academic knowledge; and lifelong learning skills that include those important building blocks of learning such as self-regulation, metacognition, growth mindset, and perseverance. (See Levers and Logic Models page 16.)

But how are those graduate profiles being translated into middle and elementary schools? How do we know that students are progressing in ways and at a pace that results in their meeting career and college ready?

I don’t have a solid answer. Here are some ideas gathered from travels around the country:

What if We Moderated What the Graduate Profile Would Mean? The graduate profiles are broader than the previous focus on academics only. But they aren’t more precise. What does it mean to be career and college ready, and how would we know if a student is or isn’t ready? We need to engage non-selective colleges and universities in agreeing what readiness means in terms of specific academic skills such as mathematics and writing; higher order skills such as analysis, evaluation, and synthesis; as well as in terms of the lifelong learning skills. If high school teachers really, really knew what CCR meant, they could then establish performance levels. Most schools will want to continue to keep cohorts as they are so powerful in communities as learners. However, do performance levels based on grades make sense? I’m guessing what we need are bands in which students “level up” when they are ready.

What if We Created Elementary and Middle School Graduate Profiles? We have to stop the flow of students with gaps in their learning into high schools. It’s horrifying that students enter high school with gaps in elementary level skills. What that means is that middle schools probably did very little to actually repair those gaps.

Districts could take the high school graduate profile and then establish performance levels for middle and elementary school. We have standards – but competencies are different in that they define what we want students to be able to do. They require performance-based assessments. And for the transferable and lifelong learning skills, we would need to establish developmental progressions (always with the understanding that students have different developmental pathways).

Every school, no matter what ages and grade they serve, could have a clear graduate profile. There could be transparency of what students know and will be able to do. There could be student exemplars to help students, parents, and teachers understand what competency in 6th grade or 8th grade looks like.

What if We Had Teachers Credential Standards and Districts Credential Performance Levels and Graduate Level Competencies?

Chugach School District developed a very interesting quality control mechanism. Teachers credentialed the learning for students within any performance band (similar to a grade level but could encompass more than one year of learning) with the district reviewing when students were leveling up to the next performance level. In this way the district took responsibility (i.e., were accountable) for making sure all students have the ability to apply their learning and were learning at appropriate levels defined by the standards (not just memorization and comprehension).

This is a great opportunity to ensure that students received support for skill repair.

We could think of these as pit-stops. They are points that districts and schools take responsibility for making sure students have had the gaps in their learning repaired. This should actually be happening on a daily basis. However, I think to end the practice of passing students on with gaps in their learning, we are going to have to establish formal practices that send strong signals that when we scaffold it is to repair learning, not just provide access to grade level curriculum.

Too many districts and schools that are converting to competency-based education are continuing to put more emphasis on covering the curriculum as compared to ensuring students are learning. Too many students are continuing to be passed on with gaps. Too many students are entering 9th grade impaired by gaps in learning. For proficiency-based diplomas to work, such as the concepts developed in Maine and Vermont, districts have to put into place a full K-12 system in which taking responsibility that students have truly mastered the knowledge and skills begins much earlier than 9th grade.

It’s time we end the practice of “passing on.”

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