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New Graduation Requirements: “(c)Commencing with classes graduating in 2023, and for each graduating class thereafter, no local or regional board of education shall permit any student to graduate from high school or grant a diploma to any student who has not satisfactorily completed a minimum of twenty-five credits, including [...] (6) a one credit mastery-based diploma assessment.”

— Public Act No.17-42; Sec. 1(c)(6)

This week’s Connecticut High School Graduation Requirements Unpacked brief focuses on the mastery-based diploma assessment requirement. One option for how a school or district could design their mastery-based diploma assessment is to build these assessments around their Portrait of a Graduate competencies or the cross-curricular, 21st century skills that schools define for NEASC accreditation. These competencies are the cross-curricular skills and knowledge that every graduate needs to be successful. Frequently these competencies include standards like communication and problem solving. Schools, districts, and communities work together to collaboratively define the essential skills and knowledge all graduates need to live healthy and productive lives. This work is often incorporated into a portrait of a graduate document or aligned to a school or district’s mission and vision work.

Below is an example of a Portrait of a Graduate.

Portrait of a Graduate - Image 1
Portrait of a Graduate - Image 2


The Forest Lake Portrait of a Graduate above identifies five competencies that are essential for all graduates to master. These competencies are: communication, problem solving, informed thinking, self-direction, and collaboration. Once schools and districts have defined their competencies, they need to describe the discrete skills and knowledge that make up each competency (also known as performance indicators), and then performance levels (or scoring criteria) for each of those indicators.

Forest Lake has also created some sample competencies, performance indicators, and scoring criteria for communication, problem solving, informed thinking, self-direction, and collaboration available here. Below is a sample of the communication scoring criteria. Notice how these indicators are aligned to the Portrait of a Graduate language and expectations. This scoring criteria also focuses on what moves we see students make as they are working toward proficiency in communication–as opposed to describing what students are not yet doing or demonstrating. When a student reads this scoring criteria, they know exactly what they need to do in order to demonstrate mastery of a specific competency.

All of the Forest Lake High School scoring criteria aligned to each of the defined Portrait of a Graduate competencies are available here for use and modification. Here are some additional resources and information about how to design and craft your own scoring criteria.

Forest Lake High School - Scoring Criteria chart

After a school or district has fully defined their competencies and performance levels, they can begin to craft task models for each competency. A task model is a set of characteristics or qualities that a task would need to have in order for a student to demonstrate a specific competency. Task models create the conditions for students to follow their passion and have choice in their assessment. They allow students to create unique tasks to demonstrate their mastery of a given competency or set of competencies. As long as every task contains the elements captured in the task model, students have the freedom to design tasks or complete the task of their choosing. A Forest Lake task model that would elicit evidence of a student’s communication mastery is below: 

Portrait of a Graduate - Image 4

Schools may also decide to design some specific tasks that align to their task models. Here are some tasks (and associated instructional materials) aligned to three of the Portrait of a Graduate competencies and their corresponding task models. All of these tasks could be used in their current form as a mastery-based diploma assessment or modified to fit local context.




For a mastery-based diploma assessment, we would recommend that students choose one competency aligned to your school/district’s defined 21st Century Skills or Portrait of a Graduate competencies for their assessment. Once a student has chosen a specific competency (for example: communication), they would then complete a task of their own design or one designed by educators in your school/s that is aligned to the task model associated with that specific competency.

There are a variety of mechanisms for this to happen. A student could complete their mastery-based diploma assessment as part of one of their courses (for example, a student could complete the “Health in Our Town” assessment as part of their Health course). A student could present their teacher-designed or their student-designed mastery-based diploma assessment to a faculty advisor or a panel of experts. A mastery-based diploma assessment could be part of an independent study, advisory structure, or a capstone project.

Below are some design question for consideration as you are designing the mastery-based diploma assessment in your own school or district.

Design Questions for Consideration

  1. Does your school or district have cross-curricular, 21st Century Skills, or Portrait of a Graduate Competencies that you can use as the basis of your mastery-based diploma assessment?
  2. Does your school or district currently have scoring criteria for those skills or competencies?
  3. Will your school or district create its own scoring criteria or build from previously created scoring criteria, incorporating pieces of your own vision?
  4. What are the features of a task that would allow a student to demonstrate mastery of a specific competency?
  5. Will you create the conditions for students to design their own tasks? Will you embed the mastery-based diploma assessment in a specific course or in an already established structure in your school?
  6. How will the student demonstrate their mastery? Through a demonstration? Through the finished product of the task? Will there be a standard process or will students choose how they demonstrate mastery?
  7. What resources will teachers have to inform and support their ongoing professional learning?

Additional Resources

  1. Sample Scoring Criteria: Communication
  2. Sample Scoring Criteria: Problem Solving
  3. Sample Scoring Criteria: Informed Thinking
  4. Sample Scoring Criteria: Self-direction
  5. Sample Scoring Criteria: Collaboration
  6. Verifying Proficiency: Scoring Criteria
  7. Sample Task Models


For More Information

Please contact Terry Carroll, Professional Learning Facilitator at the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, 860-236-8640, or Sarah Linet, Policy Specialist at the Great Schools Partnership, 207-773-0505, with any questions, clarifications, or for additional support.

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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.