4 Ways to Make Your Portrait of a Graduate System a Success

By David Lipkin

Portrait of a Graduate

A Portrait (or Profile) of a Graduate process is a wonderful way for school communities to build consensus about what matters most. The Portrait of a Graduate process is an opportunity to grow community, listen to diverse voices, affirm shared values, and take an honest look at how well our systems support the health, wellbeing and success of the youth we serve.

Portrait of a Graduate portfolios will become invaluable resources for storytelling, student-led conferences, portfolio defenses and applying for post-secondary opportunities.

Fortunately, there are many resources available to help schools engage in a meaningful, values driven Portrait of a Graduate process. Batelle for Kids, A national not-for-profit organization committed to collaborating with school systems and communities to realize the power and promise of 21st century learning for every student, is a great place to start. 

Hundreds of schools have already created their Portrait of a Graduate as the first step in school improvement and transformation. Portraits of a Graduate are also an excellent way to engage with competency-based education (CBE), also known as mastery learning. For newcomers, Aurora Institute published a great article about the many benefits of CBE, and for a deeper look at CBE cycles of practice, check out this article from Redesign.

Putting your Portrait of a Graduate into Action

To deliver on the promise of your Portrait of a Graduate and step into the world of competency-based grading, we recommend turning your Portrait of a Graduate into an agile portfolio assessment system. You can start by focusing on just a couple of competency areas in the first year, and invite learners to curate evidence of learning – old and new, formal and informal – that demonstrates the competency. Embed a rubric into each portfolio with clear descriptions of each level of mastery, so learners know where they stand and what they need to do to achieve mastery.

Here are a few tips to turn your Portrait of a Graduate into an effective competency-based portfolio framework.

  1. Go beyond class silos – Learning happens everywhere, so it should be easy to populate portfolios with evidence from any class and even beyond school walls. Making sure all the learning counts will create more opportunity for engagement, relationship, and authentic assessment. A piece of evidence will often demonstrate multiple competencies, so you’ll need a way to route copies of the evidence to multiple portfolios.
  2. Schedule self-assessment – Learner agency is the most underused tool to accelerate achievement. Create a system where learners can assess their own growth against a rubric, and reflect metacognitively on what they need to demonstrate in order to achieve the next level of mastery. Better yet, schedule time for adults to respond with curiosity to the learner’s self-assessment, and see what unfolds!
  3. Invite many perspectives – make sure there is a way for multiple stakeholders to offer their feedback and perspective on the portfolio – teachers, advisors, mentors, employers, parents, and of course the learner themselves. This community approach is key to calibrating assessment and refining your Portrait of a Graduate over time.
  4. Design for lifelong learning – Since Portrait of a Graduate competencies are developed over long periods of time, make sure your portfolios don’t get archived away every semester. Choose a system that keeps them available and visible for continuous updates. Your long-term portfolios will become invaluable resources for storytelling, student-led conferences, portfolio defenses and applying for post-secondary opportunities.

Portfolio assessment is a fun and effective way to simultaneously introduce your Portrait of a Graduate and begin to implement CBE. To learn more about how LiFT is designed for project-based learning and portfolio assessment, reach us at info@liftlearning.com.

As the school year winds down, we join you in celebrating your learners’ hard-earned success during a difficult time. We stand with you in your commitment to create a bright future for the next generation!


David Lipkin
David Lipkin — CEO, Co-Founder, LiFT Learning
David brings skills in systems thinking and a background in mental health to his role as LiFT Learning’s CEO. From his clinical mental health background working with children and families, he is knowledgeable about behavioral intervention, self-regulation skills, social-emotional development, and trauma-informed systems of care. He has worked as a school-based clinician, a musician, and an educator at the college and middle school levels.