At Indian Prairie School District (IPSD), located just west of Chicago, one of the crucial alignment points—a “north star,” if you will—for the district’s 35 schools is its Portrait of a Graduate profile. Widely adopted by school districts across the country, Portrait of a Graduate outlines the interdisciplinary skills that a district believes its students should embody and exemplify by high school graduation. For IPSD, these interdisciplinary skills are six core competencies that graduates need to succeed, regardless of the path a student takes after commencement. These competencies include creativity and innovation, communication, critical thinking and problem-solving, citizenship, flexibility and adaptability, and resilience.
Portraits Provide Direction
In IPSD and school districts nationwide, these Portraits of a Graduate tell the broader community what one of their graduates should “look” like. But in the process of communicating the values and aspirations of the district and wider community, these Portraits also function to align the work of schools and educators. In the spirit of backward design, by conceiving what well-rounded success looks like at the end of the K-12 journey, these Portraits lay the foundation for what the pathway itself needs to be.
While a Portrait of a Graduate provides an endpoint of where districts hope students will be by graduation, a K-12 pathway is key to supporting students to become the graduates that school leaders envision them becoming. Working in collaboration with districts, including IPSD, Digital Promise has found the most effective learning pathways are cross-curricular and offered consistently across a district’s schools and within their classrooms rather than isolated at a few magnet schools or limited to a few course electives. This challenge of a substantial and equitable education pathway is perhaps no more pressing than in computer science (CS) as a discipline and career, both of which remain spaces where people experience marginalization and exclusion from the earliest ages. One result of this exclusion is children having inequitable access to consistent, high-quality computing opportunities.
At Digital Promise, we see district-level ownership in computer science and, more widely, computational thinking (CT) as a crucial initiative for all school districts. To date, all 50 U.S. states have CS standards in place, but the number of districts within each state actually enacting such standards presents a far more blurry picture, inconsistent across schools and rarely cumulatively building to growing student competence.
For the past five years (2017-2022), Digital Promise has worked with eight different school districts across eight different states designing their own K-12 Computational Thinking Pathways. One result has been Digital Promise’s district-facing CT Pathways Toolkit, as well as a recently launched free and on-demand online course Developing District-Wide Inclusive Computational Thinking Pathways, hosted on the Infosys Pathfinders Online Institute.
IPSD was one of the first districts to partner with Digital Promise in the CT Pathways efforts. Its Portrait of a Graduate profile has been instrumental in ensuring CT is not treated as an erudite tech skill meant for a select few but a fundamental skill for all of its students and a veritable signpost for a profile of its graduates. Brian Giovanni, IPSD’s director of innovation and the district’s lead on the CT Pathways project, points out that IPSD’s Portrait of a Graduate and its CT Pathways work have always been complementary initiatives. “Our district Portrait supports our intentionality. Integrating elements of POG [Portrait of a Graduate], such as ‘creativity and innovation’ and ‘critical thinking,’ genuinely synch with the skills of IPSD’S CT Pathway, such as ‘creating computational artifacts’ and ‘decomposition.’ It wasn’t one more thing for teachers to do. It was another means to enact the Portrait itself.”