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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Definition of Student Success: What Does it Mean to You?

The report "A New Day for Learning," recently released by the Time, Learning, and Afterschool Task Force, argues that we must redefine the school day if we are to improve student achievement in the United States. The authors of the report, funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, lay out five elements of their proposed new learning system.

The first element states that we must "redefine what student success means beyond the acquisition of basic skills, support the time it takes to experience success, and develop sophisticated ways to measure it."

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This three-pronged statement, centered on student success, begins with a call for a new definition for the phrase "student success." Philosophers have debated for centuries about what it is to be an educated person. I am not convinced we can agree on what it is to be successfully educated, but we must individually have some vision in mind if we are to be able to determine whether we have hit the mark.

Most Americans, I believe, would define student success as the ability of a student to support himself or herself in this society after completing the educational process. Our value and belief systems are strongly based on economics and accumulation of material wealth. How often do you hear parents say, "I don't want my children to have to come home to live with me after completing their education"?

It's difficult to argue with the fact that the ability to support oneself economically is a goal of the educational process, but it is not the only goal. If it were, we would not need schools; we could easily achieve success by matching students with professional mentors and letting them learn on the job.

What additional definitions could we use for student success? I would like to suggest a few, and I am interested in what you would add. Student success, I believe, means the ability to

  • understand the rights and responsibilities that allow us to function as contributing members of our democracy.
  • cooperate and collaborate with others in work, social, and family settings.
  • make independent decisions based on reasoning supported by facts gathered and analyzed by students.
  • relate in a positive and constructive manner with family members and other members of the world community.
  • take responsibility for one's own actions and act supportively and compassionately toward others.

Maybe, though, it would be easier to list things that should not be included in our definition of student success. It is not a sign of student success to

  • score highly on an arbitrarily chosen standardized test.
  • help beat a rival football, basketball, or wrestling team into submission.
  • have every student specialize in science, technology, engineering, or math in order to beat the Chinese in the economic realm.
  • efficiently perform repetitive tasks in a factory setting.

How do you define student success? The form of our future educational system is dependent on how we answer this question. Please offer your suggestions.

Comments (30)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

kerri's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you completely on your statement about measuring student achievement. It really has become a nightmare with NCLB. I also believe the true meaning of education has been lost. Students are no longer excited about learning. They are not given the time to explore subject areas and do meaningful, fun work. The pacing schedule is very unrealistic. Our state takes the MSA exam in the beginning of April. We must cram all of the material for the school year and have time for review and test prep by the time the exam rolls around. The students are miserable and tend to miss a lot of school because of this. My school is a Title 1 school and is a mostly ESOL population. Many of our students come to school without speaking any English. Yet they are held to the same standards and are expected to pass the test.

Kalli's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you! I also feel that the students who succeed are the ones who ask questions. These students aren't afraid to take risks. Just like we as teachers should take risks to experiment a variety of approaches or techniques, so should our students. They should feel comfortable enough and confident enough to redo an assignment to assist them in feeling successful. Great post!

Kalli's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that successful teaching and learning takes place when the teacher and the students solve problems together, share the same values while learning with one another, and develop a sense of confidence and courage as a group in order to seek and meet challenges. I value this belief because a teacher, in my eyes, can never learn too much, both from educational resources or from his or her students. I believe that successful teaching can take place when a teacher isn't afraid to take risks and is comfortable with what he or she knows. If a risk isn't taken how will the teacher know he or she is making an attempt to reach the children. When a teacher is eager to learn along with their students, they make learning and teaching a fun-filled experience, thus creating an educational partnership between the students and the educator. The teacher and the students encounter problems and develop feasible solutions to those problems. Although they may struggle during the process, with perseverance they can and will achieve success. Thus through time, as a partnership has developed and a joint effort is made from both the teaching aspects as well as the learning aspects success becomes a reality. For me, education is a means to success, and once education is received, success is obtained.. Therefore, if students are educated from teachers who share similar values as myself, we can all make a difference in the educational process. A student who learns the meaning of an education, learns the value of an educator and once the student is educated, the outcome is a positive one.

S.Walters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree completely with the statement that education has been lost since NCLB came into play. Children are not allow any more to explore and learn from their explorations. I feel that the children of today need time to creatively explore meaningful hands on opportunities. The children of today are completely different from children from 10-15 years ago. My state also do a state test in April.It seems that the administers are only interested in students passing the test. They put so much time in getting students prepared for the test, but not allowing them the opportunity to learn the information in order to pass the test.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Student success does nit mean to achieve a good grade and good job. Man is a social animal. By success we mean, he should be able to play an effective in society as a part of his job or being a member of society.

sarah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

how would you define this quote?
"A successful student may be a competent learner;
But a competent learner may not always be a successful student"

Beth's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

While in graduate school I came upon a quote regarding success. I worte it in my notebook and refer to it still. "Success is the progressive relization of a worthwhile goal." Students goals are different. Some have a desire to learn. Some are motivated to accomplish something tangible. As long as the goal is a worthy one and they are making choices toward that goal I believe they are successful.

sultan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

thank u all for your comments but I would like to know more or the definition of successful learning. I could not find in the internet because it is very slow.

thaks again .............. Sultan

best wishes ..................

Snowblind's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I value this belief because a teacher, in my eyes, can never learn too much, both from educational resources or from his or her students. I believe that successful teaching can take place when a teacher isn't afraid to take risks and is comfortable with what he or she knows. If a risk isn't taken how will the teacher know he or she is making an attempt to reach the children.

anon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The comment about STEM subjects is a little off. While students shouldn't have to succeed in science, engineering and math solely because the Chinese are doing it, we have to ask ourselves why our children deserve to enjoy the living standards they do when it's the children of other countries who are coming up with all of the innovative ideas.

America is what it is because it was the best manufacturer/marketing machine/educational location. If we start ignoring such important topics, then we shouldn't complain when we're all living in slums but have higher self-esteem.

We don't deserve to live better than everyone else if we can't do more than everyone else.

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