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States Draw Up Graduate Profiles to Be Their Education System’s “North Star”

Alexandria, Va.—A new NASBE analysis profiles four states that have adopted a portrait of a graduate to better define the skills and knowledge students should master before they graduate high school. In it, leaders in South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Washington describe the process for creating and implementing graduate profiles and detail lessons they learned during their creation.

All four states undertook this work to ensure that a high school diploma is meaningful for students’ next steps and to build a shared understanding of the purposes of their education systems. State leaders involved varied stakeholders in the process and are working toward tracking students’ progress toward mastery of competencies that align with the profiles.

  • One of the first to adopt a statewide profile, South Carolina followed up with development of competencies that align with the profile and a definition of what progressive mastery looks like across the K-12 years.
  • After decades of work to advance competency-based education in their state, the Utah state board set up a task force in 2018 to develop its profile, the Utah Talent MAP. Adoption of the profile also led to development of an aligned set of competencies, as well as rubrics that teachers can adapt for classroom use.
  • Washington state legislation in 2019 called for a work group on mastery-based learning and charged the state board to develop a profile of a graduate. One aspect of the profile that stands out is its explicit focus on equity.
  • Approved by the state board in 2017, Virginia’s Profile of a Graduate was organized around five C’s: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creative thinking, and citizenship skills. It became the first of a series of state education profiles, including ones for Virginia educators, leaders, and classrooms that inform the work of professional learning networks across the state.

“Profiles of a graduate provide the broad strokes for a range of skills and dispositions that go well beyond reading and math,” writes NASBE’s Valerie Norville, author of the analysis. “For those who have stayed the course, a key benefit lies in giving students a clear picture of the purpose of their schooling and the steps they can take toward proficiency.”

Read and share States Sketch ‘Portraits of a Graduate’.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at



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