Creating College & Career Readiness

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to start a new high school designed to prepare all learners for college and career. My first task: to define what "being prepared for college and career" actually means.

With a clean slate and support from the New Tech Network, a team of teachers and I set out to reduce college and career readiness down to what we believed were five essential skills that all graduates should have before leaving high school. Then, we created rubrics for each skill and agreed to measuring them all school-wide.

We thought we were on fire.

This past year, I've had the opportunity to do the same thing with a second group of teachers engaged in full-school reform. While the exact skills this second group identified were unique, the essential outcomes were not.

Having gone through this process twice now, I have some reflections and next steps I think are worth sharing. If you're part of the New Tech Network, what follows are my thoughts on developing school-wide learning outcomes in two separate communities with different design models. If you're not in the network, the reflections below will still be helpful assuming the additional burden of deciding how to measure your outcomes school-wide.

Let's all agree that we'd like to graduate students who are productive, life-long learners who collaborate locally and globally to communicate critical change in their world.

While I find great value in teams working together to define and thereby "own" their particular set of lofty outcomes, I sometimes wonder if we're all unnecessarily working on something that's already been done. Let's stop re-inventing the wheel.

Take the first step and ask your team to draft their vision for a college and career ready graduate. The shared experience here will pay off, but don't get carried away. Rely heavily on the work of others and steal everything that fits your vision. Otherwise, you're just going to create what's already been created several times before.

After all, this is only step zero on the long path to ensuring these outcomes actually make it into your school curriculum.

Start with the end in mind, but don't forget to begin.

Once your team has defined their set of outcomes and have agreed to measure them school-wide, it's logical (and necessary) to create rubrics that define how each outcome will be measured. Is "collaboration" on your list? If so, what does your ideal collaborator look like? What does a poor collaborator look like? Can collaboration be measured that simply or will there need to be sub-skills or outcomes? If you skip this step or stop here, you'll have little more than a fancy statement on your website.

For this, I recommend dividing the outcomes amongst individuals or pairs of individuals to research existing rubrics (they're out there). Don't even dream of writing these outcome rubrics as a large group. The conversations you'll have about wording alone will kill your momentum and waste time.

Provide a template. If your team isn't already trained in rubric-writing, do that first. You want to have already decided whether to use a 2, 3, 4, or 10 column rubric, how many points (if set) each column will be worth, and what each column should be called. In short, ask yourself how you'd like your team's time to be used: discussing rubric formats or drafting outcomes?

Designate two individuals, preferably an idealist (probably you) and a wordsmith, to rewrite each team's outcome rubric in a single voice. The goal is to ensure a consistent language and format throughout each outcome rubric.

While rewriting, think critically about whether the criteria measured will actually assess whether the outcome has been reached. If the assessment seems insufficient, send it back to the drafter(s) with feedback for revision. Whatever you do, don't settle for incomplete or poorly written rubrics.

Having school-wide outcomes & rubrics is great, but it's not enough.

The work of creating college and career ready graduates only begins with the creation of school-wide outcomes and rubrics. Armed only with these two tools, you'll end up with a whole lot of assessment of skills that were never explicitly taught.

This is the equivalent of a college professor who provides study guides yet does't teach the class any of the content that will be on the test. It feels unfair and it doesn't lead students in any particular direction.

Particularly skilled students will figure things out on their own; students who struggle will fail.

To ensure that all students graduate with the knowledge and skills needed for success after high school, it's important for teams to scaffold the learning of school-wide outcomes across time and contexts. Skills that we believe students need to be successful must be viewed as a curriculum to be aligned horizontally and vertically throughout the school.

Here's an example: three weeks ago, I started meeting with a group of teachers from various subjects and levels in my high school. We call this group the "College and Career Readiness Curriuclum Committee (CCRCC)". It's not pretty or easy to say, but it's an important step toward the goals we're trying to accomplish.

Using Conley's 2010 book College and Career Ready and our previously created school-wide learning outcomes as a foundation, we're taking the next step of determining when and where our outcomes should be taught.

For example, if we believe that metacognition is an important lifeskill that young adults should master, where might be the best place to have students start journalling? Should this be the focus of just one class or all classes? Across all grades or just the first year? If all grades, then should our expectations be lower in earlier years and increase over time?

These are all great questions that must be answered as part of the conversation that creating a curriculum will generate.

Getting from outcomes to a curriculum is a big step, but there's one last step.

Even with outcomes, rubrics, and a curriculum, you still need a plan for establishing and sharing best practices on how they will be taught. For example, we all want our learners to graduate with a repertoire or note-taking methods and to apply them appropriately in different learning contexts.

Let's say that your team determines that students should learn to outline first. Once outlining is mastered, perhaps they learn mind-mapping, and then onto Cornell. Can you be certain that your entire staff is on the same page about how to teach outlining to reasonably assure that all students will have mastered outlining before moving onto mind-mapping? What does research say is the most effective method of outlining?

Without explicitly sharing the best known instructional practices for teaching your college and career readiness curriculum, your school-wide outcomes will only be met haphazardly and your vision will be tougher to reach.

What I've done here is not exactly unique. Anyone engaged in designing courses around content standards have followed similar steps. That's the point. If your goal is for students to be successful in college and career, then the same care and intentionality given to content planning should be given to the scaffolding of skills.

Math Dream Sequence A

Here is my first shot at a dream sequence for high school math. It's truly a "dream" sequence: flaws, incomplete stories, and all. My point here is not to hit the nail on the head. I just hope to share an idea that math can be sequenced differently with a better result.

Here it goes:

9th grade

All incoming high school students take the same math course integrating Algebra 1 and Geometry. If they were successful in Algebra 1 in middle school, great. They can take an "Honors Geometry" track embedded within regular Geometry and be leaders in the classroom by completing all problem extensions, helping others, etc.

Students in this integrated math course would receive two math credits and would have two math teachers, but there would be no difference between them. Both teachers would be responsible for both subjects and students would see them as equals.

The course would be 90–120 minutes long and would meet every day. Instruction would be 100% project- or problem-based. Students would be divided into periods by the previous year's academic performance to achieve a diverse group in every class. With two teachers and support from special education and counselors, learning would be differentiated for all learning styles and paces.

10th grade

Learners who are successful in math during the 9th grade would move on to take an integrated Physics / Algebra 2 class. This course too would have an Honors track embedded within it. Extensions to problems would be required by these Honors students who would be expected to take a leadership role in the classroom.

This course would have two teachers: both certified in math and science. Again, students would not know who was who - both teachers would take responsibility for teaching both subjects. The class would be 90–120 minutes long and meet every day. Instruction would be 100% project- and problem-based. Learners at all levels would be in the same classroom for this course.

11th grade

By the third year of high school, some students would be prepared (and will need) to take Pre-Calculus. Others may have struggled through their first two years of math and/or have educational plans that do not require them to learn much more advanced mathematics. Having already satisfied 3/4 of the MIchigan's requirements in mathematics, it's at this point that it makes sense for a few divergent paths to emerge in math sequencing.

  1. Students in need of advanced mathematics understanding could take a stand-alone, hour-long, problem-based Pre-Calculus course or a more traditional semester-long Pre-Calculus and Calculus 1 course sequence at the community college.
  2. Students not needing advanced mathematics who are interested in a service career could take an integrated Statistics & Social Science (Sociology/Psychology) course.
  3. Students interested  in more hands-on technical career could earn their math credit through a program at the nearby Career and Technical Education Center.

12th grade

By creating divergent paths during the 11th grade, students' math options would become even more specific to their desired outcomes and ability during their fourth year of high school.

  1. Students following a path of advanced mathematics could continue to take advanced courses at the community college.
  2. Students following a service or health career path could earn credit through industry-specific math courses offered at the community college.
  3. Students attending the Career Center would continue to earn their math credit through the programs offered there.
  4. Students choosing to change paths would be supported to do so according to their ability.


To reiterate the point made in the first paragraph: this plan is not perfect. The cost of doubling up math in the freshmen year is substantial and would have to be offset in some way elsewhere in the school. The cost and quality of off-campus courses would also need to be considered.  

With that said, it gets students where they need to go without compromising classroom culture by splitting the most skilled math students from those who struggle. It creates math teaching teams who can support each other to truly differentiate. It provides ample time for students to complete challenging projects and problems. And, by providing two Michigan math requirements in the first year, it provides students the opportunity to re-take a course if they struggle and fall behind. It starts to get at some of the questions I was writing about last night.

I realize that there are a lot of points and assumptions that I'm making without specifically spelling them out. As a rule, that's probably going to be a theme in my writing. I simply don't have time to pull out every detail. The point is that I hope others will join in the conversation. Things will get spelled out in time. If you have questions, I encourage you to ask.