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Aurora Institute

A new definition of student success with a focus on the whole child is crucial for transforming education systems to better prepare students for their futures.


Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have an unprecedented opportunity to transform K-12 education systems to advance equity and help every student succeed with a new definition of success. As an important first step, state policymakers and stakeholders need to identify the knowledge and skills students will need to succeed in college, career, and civic life. Readiness for college, career, and life is one of the central purposes of education at all levels. Furthermore, the economy is shifting focus from an industrial age to one which will require our future workforce to hone in on intellectual and creative capacities to problem solve in an increasingly complex world. Students need to develop lifelong learning skills providing the foundation for learning and working, including self-management, effective communication, social interactions that enable students to be successful in life, navigate new environments, and manage their own learning. This includes growth mindset, habits of work, social and emotional skills, metacognitive skills, and higher order/deeper learning competencies. States and communities can help better prepare students for future success in careers and postsecondary education by rethinking what a high school credential should mean.

Today’s youth must be prepared to take on jobs that never existed before and tackle challenges in a more complex society. Students will need skills to problem-solve, think critically and ensure they are creative, dynamic designers of their futures. There is a need to define success for students more holistically to focus on 21st century skills, as well as a strong foundation in knowledge, skills, and decision making to achieve success. The emphasis for future readiness will shift to a combination of applied knowledge and higher order skills. This informs conversations around the strategic design of graduate profiles that describe what students should know and be able to do upon graduation from high school.


  • States can partner with communities and stakeholders to create a new definition of student success (e.g., Profile of a Graduate) around the knowledge and skills students need to succeed upon graduating from the K-12 education system.
  • States can use the Profile of a Graduate to anchor aligned accountability for continuous improvement, balanced systems of assessments, and modernizing educator development systems.
Related COntent

Issue Brief

November 22, 2017

Redefining Student Success: Profile of a Graduate

Maria Worthen, Natalie Truong, Susan Patrick


January 23, 2018

Current to Future State: Issues and Action Steps for State Policy to Support Personalized, Competency-Based Learning

Dale Frost, Maria Worthen, Natalie Truong, Susan Patrick


January 1, 2018

Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education

Dale Frost, Maria Worthen, Natalie Truong, Susan Patrick