Prior to development of the California School Dashboard, our focus was primarily on getting kids to graduation, ensuring that those who wanted to go to college met all the entrance criteria for the school of their choice, and helping all other students have some chance of landing a job. Typically, this meant meeting all the local graduation requirements plus some additional coursework and activities that would round out a college application or provide some marketable technical skill.

But, as many other things have changed in education within the past few years, this focus has expanded: Schools are expected to graduate students who are college and career ready. This is defined as ready for entry to college without remediation and also ready to enter the work force in a position that offers the opportunity for advancement. There are two key elements in play here: First, graduates are expected to be college and career ready – not one or the other. Gone are the days when some kids were expected to go to college and others to work with their hands as a default. Second, graduates are expected to be college and career ready – not just eligible.

There is a great difference between being eligible and being ready for something. Being eligible means that all requisite criteria have been met and there is nothing that prevents someone from proceeding, while being ready means having all criteria met and also the ability to be successful in a particular endeavor. This is a critical distinction that expands the focus of our work from academic achievement alone to a much broader approach – an approach that reflects many of the things evolving in the field of education.

With regard to academics, it is not only important that students be able to find the correct solution, but also important that they be able to understand and explain why that answer is correct. Teachers must be flexible in allowing students to come to a solution from many perspectives, for very often there is more than one way to get to the correct answer. Knowing the correct answer is evidence that one is eligible; having the ability to adapt knowledge to a new situation is evidence that one is ready.

Our desire to help students be ready expands our approach to academic learning. It means that a student must be taught to work cooperatively with others, communicate effectively, engage in critical thinking, address problems creatively and have a sense for his or her membership in the community. These qualities are also enhanced by our deeper approach to social and emotional skill development. Teaching kids how to approach challenges and failure in a positive way is important. Teaching kids how to set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy, establish and maintain relationships, make good decisions, and understand and manage emotions is also important in that these skills help them work through the challenges of life beyond public school.

Our mission is to provide our students with an education that affords them limitless opportunity for the future. This is how we say college and career ready in Visalia Unified, and we are working hard to make sure that each of our graduates is not just eligible but ready to meet those challenges as they take their first steps into adult life.