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Professional Opinion

One pathway to college and career

Student-centered approaches and prioritized skill sets
Cross-cutting career and college readiness skills and thinking behaviors. (Click to enlarge)
Cross-cutting career and college readiness skills and thinking behaviors. (Click to enlarge)

Education and business stakeholders continue to call for more rigorous curricula, instruction and assessments in order to adequately prepare students for the demands of the 21st century.

But even if implemented well, does the Common Core fully capture the knowledge and skills students will need to succeed in college, the workplace and life? And what do tougher academics and more challenging courses really require of schools in terms of how best to support the diversity of student populations?

With the growing—and often overwhelming and competing—demands for achieving the goal of college and career readiness, how does an administrator decide where to focus the collective energies of the school community?

I look to what a wise teacher once said to me when I was an administrator: “Karin, we’ll do whatever you ask of us, just don’t ask us to do too many different things at once.”

Readiness research

Identifying and prioritizing critical skills and knowledge—and ensuring that deeper learning has prominence in curriculum and instruction—are fundamental to preparing students for college and career.

A new report, “Ready for College and Career?”, examines research on college and career readiness, finding that:

  • Students need a range of cross-cutting skills, knowledge and behaviors in addition to content knowledge in order to thrive in college and careers. Many of those research-specified qualities are implied but not directly addressed in the Common Core State Standards.
  • When embedded in a rigorous curriculum, such cross-cutting “college and career” skills can promote greater achievement in all con­tent areas of learning K12.
  • Student-centered learning approaches create ideal conditions for the acquisition of the full comple­ment of knowledge, skills and thinking behaviors needed for success in school, college and the workplace.

Ultimately, this will require new ways of teaching and new approaches to monitoring progress, including the use of student-centered assessments such as performance tasks and portfolios, self-assessments, mentor assessments of internships, and extended projects.

As seen in the chart, a rigorous curriculum begins with Skill Set #1. The research is clear that students will not be as successful with complex learning tasks without simultaneously developing Skill Set #2. This set requires intrapersonal dispositions such as self-regu­lation, metacognition and academic perseverance (grit). These behaviors help students manage complex tasks, persist through challenges, and set and achieve long-term learning goals.

Finally, Skill Set #3 requires risk taking and flexible thinking, while also expanding students’ ability to transfer knowledge. Student-centered learning practices, such as extended projects and multi-facet­ed investigations, employ skills to solve complex problems and to produce work with real-world value.

Developing these three skill sets will help students become successful self-directed and autonomous learners across content areas.

Karin K. Hess, senior associate at The Center for Assessment, is a former classroom teacher and school administrator. She is nationally recognized for her research and work with performance assessment, cognitive rigor and learning progressions.