“Portrait of a Graduate”: What is It?

For years, Woodland students have been held to specific academic, civic, and social standards. These standards have been evaluated every year through advisory projects: freshman exhibit, sophomore demonstration, junior interview, and senior capstone project. Now, the standards are changing– and the assessments are changing with them. 

All advisory assessments are milestones in a Woodland student’s career, most significantly the senior project. However, because of recent updates to state mandates, these projects are undergoing significant changes. 

According to the NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) website, it accredits Woodland as a school that ensures “all students experience a high quality of education.” A NEASC accreditation is a title of honor for schools in the New England area. It certifies that schools are producing skilled, college-ready graduates. The schools that are NEASC accredited are held to high standards all around, and this is the part of the reason that the Woodland assessment system is changing.

NEASC recently updated their standards for accreditation. Now, they require all schools to produce a “Vision of the Graduate.”

The concept of a “Vision of a Graduate” includes the development of transferable skills, knowledge, understandings, and dispositions necessary for future success. 

As a part of the new standards, schools must shift their current systems of assessment to match the skills that their students are learning. Each school can measure their students’ abilities in a different way.

Dana Mulligan, Woodland’s assistant principal, has been spearheading the project at Woodland for the past two years.

“What we did in order to fit NEASC’s standards,” Mulligan said, “is we took our academic, civic and social expectations that we had previously come to a consensus on and we rewrote those into the “Portrait of a Graduate”.”

The “Vision of the Graduate” is the name for the general idea that NEASC wants all schools to follow, while “Portrait of a Graduate” is what some New England schools are calling their interpretation of those NEASC requirements.

Ryan Mackenzie, Woodland’s assistant principal, recounts how “Portrait of a Graduate” originated from NEASC, but many schools have taken it and made it their own. “[Portrait of a Graduate] has really taken a whole new meaning within school districts,” he said. “It encompasses the four pillars of communication, collaboration, creative and critical thinking, and contribution, and those are really important skills that students need for life outside of school.”

Each of Woodland’s departments chose one or two pillars to focus on for the current school year. The departments selected it based on the rubric corresponding with each skill, which provides the outline for teachers to properly teach and assess students. 

While learning in class, students will be expected to organize each of the projects that they receive with “Portrait of a Graduate” rubrics into online folders during advisory. They will sort essays, videos, and presentations into folders on Schoology. Students will then use this work to defend their improvement in each skill via a defense. 

“Electronic portfolios are great ways to organize files that can be accessed easily and reflective in nature,” Mackenzie said. “We really promote our students knowing that their work is not just for the moment. It isn’t just for that grade, but there is a bigger picture than that; it’s a paradigm shift for a lot of kids.”

The biggest part of a Woodland student’s assessment in the past years has been the senior capstone project. While at this point there are no firm plans in place, the Woodland capstone will potentially undergo significant changes with the “Portrait of a Graduate.”

“Right now, there’s a committee of teachers and administrators who are hashing out what the difference will be between the senior project [and the new Portrait of a Graduate],” Mulligan said. “There has not been a firm decision yet on what the class of 2023’s senior project or defense will be, but that is something that we are hoping to have ready by [February] next year.”

The Class of 2023 will be the first class for which “Portrait of a Graduate” is required. Because the Class of 2023 has different graduation requirements based on the state of Connecticut, they are required to complete a mastery-based diploma assessment. The mastery-based diploma assessment will be a defense of students meeting the skills outlined in “Portrait of a Graduate”. 

In compliance, the class of 2022 has shifted their sophomore demonstration to fit the “Portrait of a Graduate” skills.

According to Mulligan, there are no plans currently in place to alter the junior interview, but that could change at any point if the committee saw fit. 

While “Portrait of a Graduate” is changing assessments and evaluations, these changes will ultimately benefit students.

“Our hope is that you can feel that you have these life skills as part of your repertoire,” Mulligan said, “so that by the time you graduate, you will have college and career readiness.”