What is success?
In any aspect of life, this is an unavoidable question, and one that almost everyone needs answered. In the world of education, it’s practically impossible to ignore. But … our ideas of student success could use some rethinking.
For students, it can be hard to conceive success as anything other than a test score, a final grade, an ATAR. But success is more than just one of these final numbers — it is an ongoing process, one that trends up and down, and something that is deeply personal.
As education grows and changes, we need to examine how to define student success and how we can best empower our students.
But first, let’s examine what most people think of when they consider success: Grades. Everyone knows what they are, but it might be more important to recognise what they aren’t.
Grades are a measure. We think they measure intelligence, aptitude and effort. But truly, they measure performance, and while this is an important metric, it teaches the wrong lesson.
This idea of performance success has taught students that grades = intelligence, but that isn’t only wrong — it’s potentially quite damaging. Students get the idea that performing poorly on a test means they aren’t intelligent, but this does not take into account personal circumstances, stress, rest and sleep levels, or learning difficulties. This way of impact can impact their confidence and emotional wellbeing, as well as their overall willingness to continue learning.
The Rennie Centre for Education Research & Policy puts it like this:
“Methods of measuring success grounded in academic assessments generate student outcomes that can ignore real, meaningful differences in students’ abilities, interests, and goals.”
There are too many barriers to student success if we conceive of it as purely academic, but if we take a broader view, we can elevate and empower our students to know that success at school is achievable in a variety of ways.
While academic achievement obviously still counts — and can be useful — it isn’t the only measure. To create a definition of student success, we must consider a number of alternative factors:
While this naturally overlaps with academic achievement, they are distinct entities; achievement is based on test or exam performance, but skills and knowledge can be developed without students exhibiting them in a test environment. It’s worthwhile evaluating the results of formative assessments — like class quizzes, group projects and presentations — as well as summative exams and tests, treating success as a process and separate from a final grade.
Yes, it can be discouraging when you put in a lot of effort to study and practice, and your results aren’t where you want them to be, but putting effort in is a metric in itself. Effort also appears in traits like creativity, energy, commitment and community outreach. Look for these in your students and encourage their pursuit.
Tests and grades, even teacher observations, are all external metrics. To get a truer insight into how students are going, why not go straight to the source? This can come as an honest conversation between teacher and student or parent and child about how the student feels their learning is tracking. You can also be a little more indirect — provide feedback forms, personal evaluations, or anonymous question boxes. Let students inform the learning process and empower them to be more active in defining their own success.
Developing skills and getting into careers, opportunities and vocations that make students feel fulfilled is really the goal of education. While not measurable during the school years, it is a good time to be teaching the youth this lesson.
Achievement via grades and scores may be the easiest way to measure success, but these other metrics, combined with a little self-reflection, can help students put things into perspective and to recognise where they are making good strides and what motivates them.
What is success for you as a student?
At the beginning of the school year, for each individual subject, or for each new unit you learn, consider what your personal goals are, and how you can achieve them. Remember, it’s not wrong for your goal to be a specific test result or a grade improvement, but try and fit in space outside of that for a personal reflection on how much you’ve learned
Many student interests are also outside the classroom — performing in a production, playing sports or creating artworks. Try to embrace these and use them to feel motivated and joyful. They may not directly translate to academic success, but they improve your overall skills and development, opening new pathways and options. The impact they have on your wellbeing and motivation cannot be understated. The secret to student success: balance.
The biggest way we can set our school up for student success is to help our pupils understand that their grades do not define them. It’s their willingness to learn, in any form that suits them; it’s not just the knowledge they’ve gained, but their confidence to apply it in their lives; it’s their personal growth and development.
Measuring only by grades doesn’t promote sustainable success either. This defines success as a fixed point, but success is also ongoing, multifaceted, and subject to change with circumstances. A contemporary student success framework needs to be both a process and an end goal.
Our commitment to student success is at the heart of everything we do at St Francis Xavier College. We want to provide a pathway for every child. Changing the way success is conceived needs to be education-wide, but it starts right here in our community too.