Ready or Not: A Broader Definition

The Every Student Succeeds Act and other national initiatives are expanding the definition of college and career readiness and calling for local school systems to craft a broader and more personalized definition for student success.

Measuring student success requires moving beyond standardized test scores toward a multidimensional and personalized set of indicators that collectively capture a more modern definition of readiness, empowering students to take ownership of their learning by aligning competencies, interests, motivations and aspirations.

Readiness Gap

According to ACT, 28 percent of recent high school graduates met college-readiness benchmarks in the four subject areas tested. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 46 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds hold a college degree. Clearly, policy that more accurately predicts secondary and postsecondary success is long overdue, as there are roughly 20 percent more students receiving college degrees than are deemed college ready.

While the shift toward multidimensional indicators of student success is widely welcomed by educators, operationalizing new policies at the local level presents a new set of challenges. Effectively transitioning to a broader definition of students’ success requires that schools move beyond assessment data toward a more comprehensive learner profile that paints a portrait of a student against a backdrop of a student’s interests, motivations, goals and aspirations. Only then can educators engage in more personalized approaches to readiness that motivate all students to succeed.

A Matter of Definition

Just as the food we eat shapes our bodies, the data and information we focus on shapes our thinking. For years, data infrastructure in schools has centered on storing and reporting assessment data. The data and information that are collected and shared about a student’s progress become the local definition of what student success and readiness mean.

Focusing on assessment data, deliberately or not, promotes a definition of readiness as performance on assessments. However, if assessment data are one of many performance indicators that are collected and shared with stakeholders, readiness takes on a different definition. As the saying goes: You value what you measure.

The national shift toward local autonomy and more personalized approaches to education provides a tremendous opportunity for superintendents and boards of education to create a clear and compelling vision for student success aligned to the values of the communities they serve. Through learner profiles of every student that include performance indicators beyond test scores and grades, a new and inspiring definition of readiness emerges, centered around what really matters for student success.

ECRA Group is an AASA School Solutions partner. This article was originally published in AASA Magazine: Gatta, J. L. (2016). Ready or Not: A Broader Definition. School Administrator, 73(11), 49. To view this publication online, please visit

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