BRIEF 3: flexible and multiple pathways
This brief explores how the statute’s move away from specific course requirements and toward broader content area requirements can provide increased flexibility for students. This flexibility also enables schools and districts to think more expansively about the learning experiences available to students. As we have explored throughout this series, two of the major changes to this statute are around increasing flexibility for course requirements and strengthening the language about demonstrating mastery through multiple pathways. The statute intends to support the demonstration and achievement of learning standards through a variety of learning activities in a range of settings.
This flexibility provides an opportunity for increased student engagement and ownership, creating structures that enable students to pursue their passions in ways that have not always been possible given the specificity of previous graduation requirements. At the same time, the increased flexibility could enable, create, or enhance inequities. While the statute requires that all courses and learning experiences must be aligned to state standards, it does not detail a specific set of courses, learning expectations, or standards that all students must experience in order to graduate. It is the district’s responsibility to set the expectations of the core skills and knowledge every student needs in order to graduate, regardless of the pathway they pursue.
While pathways may differ student to student, schools must use their local graduation requirements as the mechanism to ensure that all students graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to lead successful lives. Pathways allow for personalized experiences but districts must simultaneously ensure that all students are held to common graduation expectations. It is those common expectations for all students that enable all pathways to be equitable. Balancing the need for equity and the requirement for more flexibility requires districts and schools to be diligent and strategic about ensuring flexible and varied learning experiences while holding all students to common expectations.
The three samples below depict a wide range of learning experiences and opportunities. All of the courses and learning experiences highlighted below are aligned to state-wide subject matter content standards. The transcripts below show students who pursued learning experiences of interest while simultaneously gaining the foundational set of knowledge and skills in every content area that was required in their local district. These sample transcripts range from fairly traditional learning experiences and course-sequences to unique and student designed pathways, providing food for thought as you think about the opportunities within your own district.
Transcript A shows a student’s path through high school meeting the updated graduation requirements through a fairly traditional course sequence. The statute dictates the broad content areas students must take for twenty-two credits, which requires that students (at a minimum) acquire an additional three credits through the content areas of their choosing. This student met the minimum number of twenty-five state-required credits through additional world language classes and band. Her course sequence throughout high school does not indicate any cross-content courses, work-based learning, service learning, or any of the other pathways specifically named in the statute.
Transcript B shows a student who pursued additional credits in STEM, world languages, and an academic support elective. The academic support elective provides credits toward graduation and serves as a support and remedial service for Dexter. In this transcript, we see that the school offered (and the student pursued) cross-curricular courses in humanities and STEM. He acquired credit through a hospital-based apprenticeship and an academic support program. In addition to pursuing a STEM pathway, AP biology, and a hospital-apprenticeship, he also acquired additional credits in Arabic. This school has an academic support program that provides students with interventions, extensions, and credits for that time.
Transcript C shows the path through high school of a student who exceeded the state credit requirements. This student focused deeply on studying Spanish and designed a unique and self-directed course of study. William enrolled in cross-curricular humanities and STEM courses, designed an exchange to Spain, and enrolled in both college-level and online courses. He had both the flexibility and support to follow his passion, while the graduation requirements provided guardrails to ensure he acquired a foundational set of skills and knowledge in all content areas.
As you begin implementing the updated graduation requirements, you will want to focus on ways of increasing flexibility within the structures and programs that already exist within your schools. At the same time, you will want to examine course-taking patterns and pathways data, considering how you can remove barriers to access and create opportunities for all students to engage in rigorous deeper learning experiences driven by their own interests and aspirations. The current iteration of the statute retains the requirement that all students (beginning in grade six) maintain student success plans, but allows students more flexibility to create new learning experiences and for schools to design integrated experiences that can guide student learning. Throughout the process of examining your pathway options and as you work collaboratively to expand learning opportunities for students, use the questions below to both prompt and push your thinking.
Design Questions for Consideration
- What are the opportunities within your schools and district for students to personalize their learning experiences?
- How do the pathways in your high school(s) promote rigorous and complex learning that result in equitable outcomes?
- How are you ensuring that all the pathways and learning experiences offered in your schools and district are aligned to state-wide subject matter content standards?
- Are all available pathways open and accessible to all students?
- Are all available pathways aligned to shared beliefs and practices in your schools and districts?
- Are pathways integrated into your programs and culture?
- Student Success Plans
- Assessment Pathways as a Means to Ensure Equity, Rigor, and Personalization for All Students
- Assessment Pathways: Evidence of Learning
- Designing Personalized Learning Pathways: Best Practices from Vermont
- Video: Flexible Pathways to Graduation: Six Vermont High School Students
- Scoring Criteria: Design Guide
For More Information
Please contact Terry Carroll, Professional Learning Facilitator at the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-236-8640, or Sarah Linet, Policy Specialist at the Great Schools Partnership email@example.com, 207-773-0505, with any questions, clarifications, or for additional support.
This document was co-created by Great Schools Partnership and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.