XQ Design Principles Rubric 

The XQ Design Principles can guide any school community that’s ready to rethink high school…

By Sean McClung

The XQ Design Principles can guide any school community that’s ready to rethink high school so all students achieve the XQ Learner Outcomes. These research-backed principles are foundational to the XQ school design process, which has been used by teams across the country to redesign their existing schools or design new ones.

But the power of the XQ Design Principles doesn’t end there. These principles are also invaluable to school leaders and teams—including educators, students, families, and partners—as they implement, refine, and continuously improve their school models. 

We created the XQ Design Principles Rubric to support the long-term, iterative work of continuous improvement. Developed in partnership with XQ schools and the improvement experts at Springpoint, the rubric helps ambitious high schools understand where they are on the journey to excellence—and how to take practical steps to achieve their goals.

Inside the rubric, teams can review a detailed set of “dimensions of practice” indicators designed to help them place their schools on a developmental scale (from emerging to sustained), picture what success could look like for their school, and chart a path to get there.

Currently a work in progress, the XQ Design Principles Rubric will be further developed in 2022 before being translated into a fully digital format.

Learning How to Use the XQ Design Principles

We know that any new approach to school wide transformation can be challenging to navigate. Teams can get started on this rigorous, inquiry-driven process by discussing questions associated with each XQ Design Principle, exploring connections across principles, and articulating their vision for student success. 

Tip: Most people find that it’s overwhelming to tackle all the design principles at once. Start by choosing one or two that seem most important for your school.

Design Principle 1. Strong mission and culture

A unifying set of values and principles that provide common purpose, express belief in the potential of every student, and define every aspect of a school. 

Reflection questions:

  • Does the school have a shared mission that believes in all learners?
  • Is equity truly at the center of the mission?
  • Are there common goals shared by all stakeholders?
  • Is the school leader consistently stewarding and reinforcing the expectations that lead to the desired school culture?

“Our theory of action is to use place-based learning to make connections to and create depth of learning. We are constantly trying to make connections to self, to learning, and to one another. No content is taught in a silo.”

School leader

Design Principle 2. Meaningful, engaged learning 

Innovative approaches to curriculum and teaching that use real-world, interdisciplinary learning experiences to enable students to develop and apply deep content knowledge and complex skills. 

Reflection questions:

  • Does the school use an interdisciplinary curriculum that engages students in developing and applying complex skills? 
  • To what extent are students deeply understanding their learning and how it connects to their lives?
  • Which milestones and assessments provide students with feedback and opportunities to assess their progress towards college and career readiness?
  • Are student learning experiences integrated with opportunities to apply knowledge across multiple content areas?
  • How do students and teachers assess student progress and use it to inform next steps in teaching and learning?
  • How are students developing the skills to plan, monitor, and assess their own performance and understand themselves as learners?

“In seminars, you get information, but you also learn how to teach yourself. This isn’t a school where you wait for them to tell you what to do. There’s a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t think we would need to learn at our age, and you feel really accomplished after.”

– Student

Design Principle 3. Caring, trusting relationships

Consistent emphasis on truly getting to know students, both inside and outside the classroom, and on building positive relationships among students and between students and adults. 

Reflection questions:

  • What systems and structures does the school have in place to ensure that all students are known well by at least one adult that provides support to them both academically and socio-emotionally?
  • To what extent does the school community believe every student can achieve at high levels and challenge inequitable structures that may cause disproportionate outcomes?
  • What opportunities does the school provide for all stakeholders to share, express, and celebrate their identities and cultures as well as engage in conversations around power, privilege, and difference?
  • In what ways does the school employ a consistent, inclusive, asset-based approach to building a sense of belonging in the school for both learners and adults?

“Being here has helped me find out who I want to be. Coming back [after Covid], they did these mental health checks every week, not just academically but mentally. They support you academically, physically, mentally. Everything. They get really deep.

– Student

Design Principle 4. Youth voice and choice 

An approach to teaching, learning, and an overall school culture that focuses on giving all students opportunities to build their identities as learners and develop the capacity for agency and autonomy. 

Reflection questions:

  • What opportunities do students have to develop their identities as learners?
  • When and where do students have opportunities to make decisions about their postsecondary goals and the pathways to achieve them?
  • In what ways does the school support students in their journey to own their learning through agency and autonomy?

“Our advisory curriculum is a huge place where we’re able to talk about students’ futures, and how to make plans to get there. In 10th grade they’re doing a lot of resumes, job shadows, etc., and I can see how that would be a motivating factor in doing the work required to get a job they’re really excited about.”

– Teacher

Design Principle 5. Community partnerships

Powerful partnerships—with community and cultural institutions, business and industry, higher education, nonprofit organizations, and health and service providers—that provide support, real-world experiences, and networking opportunities for students, enabling them to envision and set goals for the future.

Reflection questions:

  • Which partnerships provide learners with meaningful opportunities inside and outside of school, and consistently support the school’s mission, vision, and goals?
  • How are partners chosen so that all students can benefit from their expertise through exploring their passions, dreams, and interests?
  • In what ways does the school provide a benefit to the partner that reinforces and deepens the relationship on both sides?

“What separates us is the involvement and engagement of our community partners as stakeholders. They are interested in our students and where the students will land years from now. We have said from Day 1 that we are not the holders of all information. If we can’t teach it, then we’ll find someone who can.”

– Staff Member

Design Principle 6. Smart use of time, space, and tech

Non-traditional, flexible uses of time, technology, space, place, financial resources, and roles to increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning.

Reflection questions: 

  • What non-traditional, creative, and flexible practices does the school employ to enrich the student experience?
  • In what ways does the school review, reflect on, and make decisions based on data that ensure inclusion and access to advanced courses, as well as eliminate disproportionate remediation, disciplinary practices, and other inequities?
  • How are space and time thought about as malleable resources that support learners’ development and needs?
  • In what ways does the school strategically think about human capital as the primary means to support students’ growth and development? 
  • How does the school utilize technology to open doors and enhance the learning experience?

“The innovative way of how we are structured was a breath of fresh air. Visuals and what I’m surrounded by excites me: colors, sounds, nontraditional classrooms, being able to write on windows. Being able to think critically, to innovate even now, apply things and see how they work. Learning and developing as a staff.”

– Staff member