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Portrait of a Graduate - Competencies Frame Success for High School Graduates

An initiative led by the N.C Department of Public Instruction to develop a framework with skills and mindsets students need for success after high school has been revealed recently as the Portrait of a Graduate.

“The Portrait of a Graduate showcases seven competencies that, when combined with and integrated into our academic work, will provide a richer educational experience,” said Superintendent Dr. Donald Phipps. “These durable skills not only enhance the educational experience, but they also help prepare our students to be successful in life, both in their K-12 years and beyond.”

As determined by teams of more than 1,200 North Carolinians from across the state, the seven competencies that students should possess upon graduation from high school to help them thrive in the 21st century include the following:

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

Learn more about the Portrait and competencies

An initiative that has been unfolding since last March aims to ensure that North Carolina students are well-equipped for the broadest range of postsecondary opportunities. Aligning with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt’s 2022 focus on the “Year of the Workforce,” the Portrait can be adopted by schools and districts to better prepare students for civic life, career or college.

 “There was and remains a steady need for students to develop skills outside of what we consider traditional technical skills and academic knowledge,” Truitt said. “Data also shows us that durable skills, like the ones included in the Portrait, are in high demand among employers and beneficial to students regardless of the path they choose – be it college, career, or military. This newly unveiled statewide Portrait is an important way we can allow, encourage and invite schools to begin emphasizing durable skills in the classroom, and is a tool that will help students develop these competencies during their time in North Carolina public schools.” 

The Department of Public Instruction began working directly with local school districts this spring to solicit broad participation and engagement from educators, students and families to employers, business leaders and workforce development boards across all eight of the state’s educational regions. Volunteers were organized into design teams, which collaborated over three months to determine the key competencies that would be included in the final Portrait. The design teams specifically included representatives from across the education sector, including the NC Community College System, NC Independent Colleges and Universities, the University of North Carolina System, BestNC, myFutureNC, Communities in Schools, the NC Department of Commerce, the Emerging Issues Institute, the Institute for Emerging Issues' rural faith community network, and the NC Chamber of Commerce. 

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. 

Long term, the Portrait of a Graduate provides a potential framework for designing a multi-measured system of accountability that not only emphasizes strong academic outcomes but also highlights the durable skills and mindsets students need to thrive. An effort now underway to revise the state’s accountability system provides an opportunity to create a system that is a more balanced measure of student success and school quality. The Portrait helps inform the work around these discussions and allows for consideration of other indicators that support the well-being and readiness for civic life, career and college for all students. 

“I am hopeful that these seven competencies will eventually anchor the state’s accountability model,” Phipps said.

View the final Portrait.