Defining Student Success – More Than Just a Number

Cindy Ambrose, Regional Facilitator for the Low Country Education Consortium

Tina Wirth,  Senior Vice President of Talent Advancement, Charleston Metro Chamber

In a global economy, it is imperative that students possess skills, training, and education well beyond the traditional PK-12 school curricula.  The economic vitality of South Carolina is dependent upon skilled workers who possess more than just academic knowledge. Employers need a workforce that is skilled in collaboration, communication, creative thinking, and problem-solving, and who can navigate the world as self-directed, lifelong learners. 

  While The South Carolina Profile of a Graduate serves as a strong foundation for the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that can ensure our students are competitive in a global economy, making the profile actionable requires a huge transformational shift in our current educational systems and structures. In the South Carolina Low Country, we believe that educators, business and industry, higher education, and community and state leaders, through collaboration and joint efforts, can reach this transformation and craft a new definition of student success.

In recent years, at any gathering of educators and business and industry in our region, a few key questions and comments almost always appeared in the conversations.

  • What are business and industry leaders looking for in their workforce?  
  • What are students expected to know, understand, and be able to do?
  • What soft skills must they know beyond academics?   
  • How can business and K-12 collaborate to dramatically shift the current educational structures so that we define student success as more than just a test score or grade point average?

In the South Carolina Low Country, we contend that our definitions of what constitutes student readiness for career and college need an overhaul.  While content knowledge has always been deemed as important, equally as important are the skills and dispositions necessary to ensure the region’s and South Carolina’s economic prosperity.   Knowledge alone will not make our students competitive in the new global economy. 

In the Low Country, we define skills and dispositions using the language from the Innovation Lab Network’s publication The Innovation Lab Network State Framework for College, Career, and Citizenship Readiness, and Implications for State Policy.

  • Knowledge – mastery of rigorous content knowledge across multiple disciplines and the application or transfer of what has been learned;
  • Skills – the strategies that students need to engage in higher-order thinking meaningful interaction with the world around them such as problem-solving, written and oral communication, working in teams; and
  • Dispositions – sometimes referred to as behaviors that are closely associated with success in college and career such as punctuality, ownership of your learning and actions, and work ethic.

At first glance, shifting the emphasis to more than just academics seems so very simple; yet, we know that this transformational shift will require changes in practices, policies, regulations, and legislation.  It will take a concerted effort by business, industry, and the educational systems to redefine the definition of student success to more than just a test score or grade point average. 

In the Charleston Metro region, we have linked arms and are focusing on these efforts. Here is what we have done to date to launch this important work.

First, we believe in examining the talent needed in the region. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the local school districts, area colleges and universities, and regional employers, has defined the needs and gaps that exist in the region.  

Those needs and gaps are articulated in the Talent Demand Study published bi-annually by the Chamber as a strategy for economic growth through alignment of the emerging workforce to projected industry need. As a result, local educators can expand program capacity in growing occupations and better encourage students into these pathways. understand and respond to employers’ needs.   

Additionally, in December 2016, the Charleston Metro Chamber, in partnership with educators and business and industry, led the work of identifying a set of career readiness standards/ competencies for the fastest-growing, high-demand job sectors in the region. The result was the publication of the Common Skills in High Demand report that details the competencies necessary for the region’s high school students to be career-ready.   

It is our goal to embed these competencies into our curricula and move to a more balanced assessment system that measures the skills and dispositions such as problem-solving, communication, student ownership of the learning, and employability skills.

What is next to make the goal of this transformational shift doable?  

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states with an opportunity to transform education systems with new flexibility. ESSA makes it possible for the crafting of new definitions of success that reports out on more than just a raw test score.  This flexibility allows states, and in some cases school districts, to redesign systems of assessments and accountability systems. The districts in the Low Country urge South Carolina to take advantage of the flexibility in the Every Student Succeeds Act and apply for an Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA) Pilot.   Both North Carolina and Georgia have applied for these pilots and received approval.  

Legislation such as the bill SB204 in Colorado and SB362 in Georgia paved the way for these states to revamp their assessment frameworks.  We believe that by seeking the IADA Pilot, redundancies could be eliminated allowing districts to focus on a more balanced assessment system that would include performance assessments, digital badging, and student digital portfolios demonstrating mastery of skills and dispositions that cannot be measured via traditional assessments.  Legislation coupled with the IADA approval would be good first steps and a logical plan of action to redefine measures of student success in the Low Country and Palmetto State.

Our local community has begun to identify what is important for business and industry in our region to develop a new definition of student success that includes the skills employers in the Low Country have identified as a priority.

South Carolina was one of the first states to develop a profile of the graduate that outlines what is important to the Palmetto State.  Let’s begin the work necessary to ensure we can make that profile actionable. By linking arms in this grassroots effort, the Low Country and South Carolina can attain the kind of transformation that is necessary to redefine student success and ensure economic prosperity for our state and this region.

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