What should our students know and be able to do when they graduate high school?
The Portrait of a Graduate Project attempts to answer this question. In our rapidly and continually changing world, a broad set of knowledge and skills is increasingly integral to being a productive and engaged participant in college, career, and the community. Students need access to learning experiences that ensure they are able to pursue their goals and reach their fullest potential. While pockets of innovation exist across the nation, access to excellent education remains uneven. For example, despite completing the requirements for a high school diploma, many graduates find that they are not sufficiently prepared to meet the expectations of college and the workforce. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of first-year college students must enroll in at least one developmental (remedial) course; the percentage nears 60 percent at some two-year colleges.
Many high schools operate under a set of policies and practices that can feel disconnected from both each other and from a larger vision for students’ success. If schools endeavor to successfully educate all students, communities must construct a new understanding of what school could look like, and structure the learning environment and student experience accordingly. Engaging in a process like developing a portrait of a graduate3 is an opportunity to cut through the clutter to clearly and collectively define a community’s own values and aspirations for their students. This process can connect and align work that’s already in place, bridge any existing gaps, and serve as a guide for future decision-making and prioritization. Students, families, school and central office staff, higher education representatives, employers, and others all have an important role to play in the creation of a robust portrait of a graduate. Representatives from these groups possess insights and experiences that are vital to developing a collective set of expectations and outcomes for all high school graduates. Further, making future substantial changes to policy and practice to significantly improve outcomes for students and graduates requires buy-in and support across all members of the community.
While “doing high school differently” is by no means a linear process, we have seen how engaging and empowering the full community in developing a clearly articulated vision of what students will know and be able to do when they graduate lays crucial groundwork for beginning to think differently about the high school experience and make strategic decisions accordingly. This process pushes communities to articulate the full range of outcomes they want for their students, and fosters a shared understanding of what it means for all students to truly be prepared for post-secondary success.