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State Superintendent Catherine Truitt unveils Portrait of a Graduate

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  • “Our hope is that schools will embrace this portrait and that schools and teachers will emphasize these competencies in their day to day work," @CTruittNCDPI said of Portrait of a Graduate, seven competencies all students should know by the time they graduate.
  • What should students know when they graduate high school in North Carolina? State Superintendent Catherine Truitt unveiled a set of seven competencies to answer that question.
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North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt unveiled Tuesday the “Portrait of a Graduate” — seven competencies she hopes schools will incorporate into every aspect of learning.

The competencies, whittled down from 50 created by a group of 1,200 people from across the state, are the skills the group decided are most essential for students to learn.

“An accountability model really drives everything a school does. So, in another words, what gets measured gets done,” Truitt said yesterday, adding later: “We really set about to frame a collective reflection of what skills a students needs to have, no matter what they’re going to do when they graduate from high school.”

The seven competencies are:

  • Adaptability.
  • Collaboration.
  • Communication.
  • Critical Thinking.
  • Empathy.
  • Learner’s Mindset.
  • Personal Responsibility.

You can learn more about them here.

The unveiling came at the education building in Raleigh, where some of the participants in the design of the competencies gathered along with Department of Public Instruction (DPI) staff, students, and their families.

A press release from DPI explains how the competencies can be used like this:

“School districts can use the Portrait to enhance classroom learning, as it pairs academic rigor with the skills and mindsets that will help prepare North Carolina students for an ever-changing world. It gives school leaders and teachers the framework to design instruction that promotes real-world competencies and job readiness. Additionally, the Portrait will also drive better alignment between employers, communities, higher education institutions, and families as North Carolina schools help to prepare students for the postsecondary plans of their choice.”

After unveiling the competencies, Truitt sat down with six students — two of whom participated in the design of the competencies — and Patrick Greene, 2022 Principal of the Year from Greene County Schools, and 2022 Sandhills Regional Teacher of the Year Elizabeth Santamour.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, right, talks with Lily Seymour, a junior at Haywood Early College in Haywood County Schools during Portrait of a Graduate unveiling on October 18, 2022. Alex Granados/EducationNC

The group talked about the competencies, how they see or don’t see them being implemented, and how they think their incorporation could change education.

“These need to be what we do,” Santamour said of the competencies. “So if we are held accountable … we are going to see growth in students we haven’t seen before.”

The students on the panel referred frequently to how standardized testing forces classes to focus on assessments at the expense of teaching.

Emersen Fitch, a senior at Wilson Early College Academy in Wilson County Schools, talked about going to Governor’s School over the summer and how the lack of testing seemed to change the way she learned.

“I noticed that because there was a lack of testing I actually retained all the information,” she said, adding later: “I know in the past I’ve been so worried about getting a good grade that I would take in all the information for the time being and then once the test was done, drop it.” 

DPI is separately working on coming up with a new accountability system to, hopefully, replace the current model which emphasizes proficiency on end-of-year testing and labels schools with grades which many critics say are more indicative of poverty level in the district than student learning.

“We also know that teachers face a lot of pressure to prepare kids for a test that occurs on one day for a few hours, and that that test largely determines what that school’s performance grade is going to be,” Truitt said.

Greene added to that, saying that he has 54 teachers under him but that only six teach a subject that is tested for the purposes of school performance grades.

Truitt also talked about the importance of the competencies in modern society, saying that only a third of students in the state are getting a four-year degree, two-year degree, or some kind of certification that will help them get a good job. She also said that seven out of 10 job postings in the country reference the need for candidates to have the kinds of skills encompassed in the competencies.

She said the workforce of today is much more complex, using the military as an example of a career field that requires a completely different skillset from its recruits now than in a previous era.

“There are so many skills that go into creating a modern day military, and we really need to make sure that our students are able to participate in workforce as it looks today,” she said.

The Portrait of a Graduate was unveiled October 18, 2022 at the education building in Raleigh. Alex Granados/EducationNC

Santamour called the competencies “umbrella skills” and noted that they are not distributed evenly across a student population.

“As a teacher, I saw these things naturally happening in the classroom, but I never paid attention to the fact that … (students) come with different levels of empathy, different levels of communication skills,” Santamour said.

Truitt said it was important to note that fact, and the fact that not every student currently has a teacher who is helping them develop these competencies.

“There has to be recognition that some students might not have had a teacher of the year before who had collaborative lessons, or lessons that have involved communication, for example,” she said.

Truitt asked the students what they would tell the people in charge about deciding whether these competencies get taught.

Raj Kumar Fitzpatrick, a senior at Green Level High School in the Wake County Public School System, referenced one of the competencies — “Learner’s Mindset” — and how it could make school a safer place to learn.

“School is the best place to fail. In real life, if you fail at your job, that’s objectively worse than failing at school,” he said.

Marcela Villasuso Venegas, a senior at Clayton High School in Johnston County Public Schools — using the competency of “empathy” as an example — said these competencies can remove some of the barriers to learning that students face.

“Learning is hard. Getting an education is hard as well as teaching it, and I think the best way to learn is to just be understanding,” she said. “It’s very hard to learn or teach in a room where someone is always fighting or it’s not calm.”

At the end of the discussion, Truitt told the students she would sleep better knowing that they would be in charge of the future. During the conversation, she also talked about her ambitions for the competencies in North Carolina public schools.

“Our hope is that schools will embrace this portrait and that schools and teachers will emphasize these competencies in their day to day work,” she said.

You can watch the whole event in the video below:

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.