What is a learner portrait? – Teacher from Kentucky


“Give me a lever long enough…and I’ll move the world.”

– Archimedes

Lu S. Young, President of the Kentucky Board of Education

As schools moved away from the high-stakes accountability environment of No Child Left Behind in 2015, many Kentucky schools and districts began a journey toward deeper, more personalized learning as a pathway to equity for ALL learners. During this journey, education officials across the Commonwealth have committed to developing a portrait of a graduate – sometimes referred to as a portrait of an elementary level learner – in order to redefine and improve learner expectations. from preschool through high school graduation and on to post-secondary.

In a symbolic way, a portrait of a graduate can serve as an Archimedean lever that ultimately changes the learner’s experience to be more personally relevant, more engaging, and more representative of the learning and career challenges faced by students in today’s fast-paced, interconnected world. , technology-driven world of 2022.

So what is a graduate portrait? Simply put, it is an agreed-upon set of school-level (or district-level) aspirations for what each learner will know and be able to do when they leave us. This exit can occur at the end of preschool, the end of elementary school, the end of middle school, the end of middle school, the end of high school, or at any other checkpoint along the way.

No matter when students demonstrate a particular portrait of a higher education skill – such as communication, collaboration, or problem solving – the skill remains the same as learners progress through a series of skill progressions. developmental learning that develops and improves over time. For example, Grade 3 students can demonstrate collaboration skills through a variety of in-school learning experiences such as projects and group activities, or outside of school in scouting, youth soccer, church youth group, after school programs, etc. When this portrait of a graduating skill is assessed at a later checkpoint, say at the end of Grade 8 for example, teachers will see more nuanced and sophisticated skill development.

This skill progression is much like what happens when toddlers go from t-ball to baseball to coach to Babe Ruth League and beyond. The skill does not change; children improve.

Inherent in the implementation of Portraits of a Graduate is a shift to performance-based assessment in addition to the knowledge-based assessments that teachers most often use in schools. In performance assessment systems, teachers use grading guides and other assessment tools to assess the progression of student skills over time. They give students frequent feedback and plenty of opportunities to practice skills, much like students play sports or rehearse the arts. Performance appraisal systems often culminate in public presentations of learning such as defenses of learning, expo nights, and student-led conferences – to name a few.

To better illustrate the “what” of a graduate portrait, check out what these districts across Kentucky are already working to implement and measure:

These districts, along with others across the Commonwealth, have embarked on a journey towards deeper learning that better meets the needs of the whole learner: knowledge, skills and dispositions. When fully implemented, graduate portraits become the lever through which teachers, schools, and districts rebalance our learning expectations to include a broader, more enduring set of aspirations for what every student should. demonstrate in terms of mastery of academic content, essential professional skills that employers are looking for and the human qualities that we want in the global citizenship of tomorrow.

The net effect of co-creating a school or district portrait of a graduate with community partners, and implementing that portrait in each classroom, is that these essential skills and dispositions also become important than the academic content that we have focused on almost exclusively throughout the No Child Left Behind era. They do not replace academic content; rather, they enhance and extend this knowledge to relevant and concrete applications.

The Kentucky Board of Education created a subcommittee to model a statewide learning process portrait. We hope that every district in Kentucky will follow this lead, joining in this effort wherever they are along the way by defining, communicating, and measuring the skills and dispositions that are essential for student success in the 21st century. Ours is a global, interconnected world full of complex challenges that will require new skills and mindsets, innovation and many new ideas.


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