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The Definition of Student Success: What Does it Mean to You?

| Ken Messersmith

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.

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Comments (30)

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Carl M (not verified)

A Student's Success

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The measuring of student success has been a political nightmare. With NCLB taking center stage in education today, students are inundated with a plethora of state exams that are to measure student mastery of subject material. Behind all the test taking strategies and standarized cirriculum, the true meaning of education has been lost. Not all students can or should go to college. Students learn at different levels and in different ways. Unrealistic and demanding pacing schedules don't help students they limit the opportunity for teachers to effectively challenge and excite students about subject matter.

I believe that student success can't be measured universally. Learning opportunities are not equitable. Affluent districts have an unfair advantage over larger urban districts. Special education and ESOL students can't be held accountable to the same standards as other students. Social skills are equally as important as academic skills. Senior projects in my district require interaction with people outside of our school. I believe a lack of social interaction is a major flaw in home schooling.

CH (not verified)

I believe that a successful

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I believe that a successful student is one who shows a sense of responsibility, creativity, and self-efficacy. It is not enough for a student to do well on a test and complete all of the classwork and homework. The student must show growth and take responsibility for any areas in the content that he doesn't understand. By this, I don't mean that the student is solely responsible for his learning but that he admits when he needs help or to redo an assignment. In my class, the students who I consider most successful are those that work the hardest and therefore feel the most successful when they do well.

Jen (not verified)

Student Success

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Student success can not easily be defined. It is a constant progression. Once a goal has been achieved, a newer, higher, goal must be set. It is important that students learn to achieve on standardized tests. These tests are a fact of life - this may not always be the case but they are here now. Being able to write is crucial. So much of communication today is based in a system of writing. Most importantly, a student must be able to do more than regurgitate information. Learning to take in information and analyze it, break it apart, and reassemble it speaks volumes to me about success.

William (not verified)

Student Success

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In my opinion, student success is determined by the overall accomplishments that a student makes in his/her educational career. That would include educational, social, and ethical behaviors. All of these areas must work together for a student to truely be successful. A student can excel in the classroom, but if they cannot apply it to the "real world" it doesn't matter. A student might be a social honey bee, but if a proper work ethic is not in place they are setting up for failure. Each and every student will progress and reach different levels within these categories; it is up to us as educators to facilitate the example and atmosphere for them to succeed.

Colbster (not verified)

student success

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I agree that the future of education depends on how we answer this question. I teach fourth grade. I feel that my student’s success is two fold. I believe that that they need to be socially successful and academically successful. I feel that my students are both academically and socially successful when they are able to take responsibility for their actions and their learning. I also believe that it is imperative that they are also respectful of themselves, their peers, and adults. I believe that a fourth grader that is both respectful and responsible is successful. Every student has a different ceiling academically. I don't think that you can define success based on test scores. Student A may score in the 70th percentile on a standardized test and not be successful in my eyes if they are not perfuming to their potential. A student that struggles may score in the 20th percentile, but that may be the best they can do. To me that student is successful.

Anonymous (not verified)

Agree

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I feel student success has to be measured from individual to individual. I agree Shannon, I think that being a critical thinker is part of becoming a successful student. The critical thinking process helps students to think things through and solve problems on their own. I feel teaching students this technique, along with the tools of reading, writing, and math puts them in position to become successful. Lets face it, we know our students all have different abilities and to measure them would be quite difficult. Motivation I believe is another key. The students who are motivated to learn these task to the best of their ability put themselves in better position to be successful. I do not think we can accurately measure success, but we are obligated to give them the tools that they need to find it.

cp (not verified)

Being a Learner

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I believe that a successful student is one that not only can support him/herself, but is able to read and communicate orally and in writing. I agree that being able to answer questions on a test is not a true sign of success, because I have seen many good test-takers that cannot function in a classroom discussion or has no common sense. To have an opinion and an identity is also part of being a successful student. I do not think that regurgitating what is taught is success. Internalizing and forming an opinion for or against what is taught is learning. Learning is intrinsic and self-reflection is an ongoing process. Another aspect of success is that the student goes on to be an active participant in the community and the world around him/her. A successful student takes ownership of his education and is educated as a whole person.

Shelly R. (not verified)

Student Sucess

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In my opinion, student success is a student who demonstrates responsibilities, differenciates right from wrong, having the willingness to expand their education, being able to give in our society, and showing a little bit of confidence in what they do. We can't ask the same amount of success from each student, but we can hope that a little success shows through each student we teach.

Trish (not verified)

Student's Success

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I think that a student is successful when they can express their beliefs, opinions, morals, thoughts, and ideas with compassion, empathy, and determination.

I also believe that student is successful when they act as "Good Citizens" and help out a friend, teacher, relative, neighbor, etc in need. Not because they are asked to do so but rather because of intrinsic interest to be a good person.

I believe that a student is successful when they work hard to improve a failure to master a skill or problem in life.

Trish (not verified)

Student's Success

Was this helpful?
0

I think that a student is successful when they can express their beliefs, opinions, morals, thoughts, and ideas with compassion, empathy, and determination.

I also believe that student is successful when they act as "Good Citizens" and help out a friend, teacher, relative, neighbor, etc in need. Not because they are asked to do so but rather because of intrinsic interest to be a good person.

I believe that a student is successful when they work hard to improve a failure to master a skill or problem in life.

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