Partner Profile: Ramsey School District, NJ

The Ramsey School District has long prided itself on preparing students for not just the modern world, but the one of the future. In January 2018, we set out to identify the top competencies that our school community named as important for a Ramsey student to possess upon graduation. Using over 1,000 survey responses from all stakeholders in the educational community, we arrived at our Profile of a Ramsey Graduate. These competencies, modeled after Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, serve as the “North Star” that guides all of our district work from PreK through Grade 12. It informs curriculum writing, teaching practices, and assessment across the district. 

Soon after adopting the Profile of a Ramsey Graduate, the district set out to design Profile Projects to serve as capstone assessments at each culminating grade (3, 5, 8, and 12) throughout the district. Our goal was to align these cornerstone assessments with the Profile competencies to provide the students the opportunity to work towards the explicit and ambitious goals. But we really wanted to make sure the Profile became something more than just a poster that hangs on the wall. In the words of Tony Wagner, “A profile without an assessment is useless.” Our work with Envision Learning Partners transformed our approach from the collection of a body of student work to an active and interactive proof of lifelong, adaptive competencies. 

Ramsey High School was in the process of designing a senior capstone project, and that gave our Grade 12 a head start. We built upon that work and, with support from international curriculum expert Jay McTighe and Envision Learners Partners, we aligned our emerging capstone to our new graduate profile. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, a group of teachers and administrators worked with Jay McTighe, Justin Wells, and Suzanne Malek to collaboratively develop new courses which, while honoring the student-driven project component, also grafted (McTighe & Curtis, 2020) a small set of discipline specific big ideas with certain Profile competencies, to create a student experience that honored our district goals of Developing a Ramsey Graduate and Teaching for Understanding As importantly, honoring equity led us to design inclusive and distinct courses that provided the opportunity for our students with special needs and English Language Learners to complete Profile Projects and Defenses of Learning as well. 

The distinct Profile courses are:

  • Human Centered Statistics – Students integrate probability, data exploration, sampling, experimentation, statistical inference, procedures of estimation, confidence intervals and hypothesis testing. They apply descriptive and inferential statistics to a variety of fields of interests, including, but not limited to: business, psychology, sociology, science, and everyday life.

  • Exploring Social and Digital Media – Students undertake the challenges of social or digital media content that can include video, film, vlogs, podcasts, live-streaming, etc. They explore the influencer culture, the evolution of modern communication, or the potential for “going viral.” Course components include the analysis of social trends and a practical examination of the resources and tools associated with social and digital media.

  • Inquiry and Research in Science – Student projects take the form of original research and experimental inquiry, a deep dive into a topic culminating in a research paper, or a project that results in the coordination of a service-learning event. They discuss key features of scientific inquiry including methods of research, interpretation of science journal articles, design of surveys, and production of visuals to communicate findings.

  • Change Agents: Your World Your Solutions – Students engage with contemporary events and issues and consider what it means to be a change agent in a complex modern society. They gain a deeper understanding of the most pressing global issues, and use their profile projects to design solutions to real world problems.

  • French V AP, Spanish V AP – These courses, conducted entirely in the target language, recognize the complex interrelatedness of comprehension and comprehensibility, vocabulary usage, language control and communication strategies. They also develop students’ awareness of and appreciation for products, practices, and perspectives from the target cultures. 

  • Profile Project Seminar – Students in this interdisciplinary course connect meaningful learning outside of school to recognition inside it. They present project ideas and collaborate with seminar instructors to delineate goals, develop plans of action, and identify areas for research. A public Defense of Learning is a core component for this seminar program.

Our Profile Projects ask students to draft extensive proposals, engage in research, and compile working portfolios. They navigate obstacles along the way with frequent moments of reflection and conferences with their course instructor. By Grade 12, our students are reflecting on their growth through the lens of the Profile of a Ramsey Graduate competencies. This goes far beyond our original goal of public exhibition of completed projects. Aided by Envision Learners Partners, our group realized that the effort should instead culminate with student delivery of a Defense of Learning. That more meaningful and more interactive presentation calls for students to leverage artifacts and reflections as they deliver multimedia Defenses to a panel of Ramsey faculty. Panelists will hear each student’s defense, engage the student in a period of Q&A, deliberate, and then meet with the student to offer feedback.

For centuries it has been common practice for someone earning a doctoral degree to be required to defend his or her dissertation in front of a panel. Other types of defenses in higher education have included oral examinations and defenses of thesis. This practice is less common and, in fact, is very rare in high schools. However, completing a senior project and defending the learning associated with completion of that project is now something that about 100 Ramsey High School seniors will have achieved come June 2021. Beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, every graduating senior will complete a Profile Project and a Defense of Learning. This will serve as a fitting culmination of their K-12 experience and prepare them for success after graduation. We are very excited about and proud of these Defenses and believe it is something that truly sets Ramsey apart from other schools.

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