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Overhauling The High School Transcript - Fantasy or Necessity?

The tireless pursuit to “Be the same, only better” is the reality for most students in our existing education system. Todd Rose insightfully wrote about the myth of averages, the negative consequences of an education system built on averages, and the path to improve it in The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness. One example of the sameness Rose describes is the transcript. The majority of transcripts, both high school and higher education, look virtually identical, reducing students, unique human beings with diverse strengths, to letters and numbers and eventually one number, a Grade Point Average (GPA). This system of averages was designed over 130 years ago for efficiency so students could be sorted and ranked quickly for acceptance into (or rejection from) colleges, graduate school and jobs. However, we now understand that this efficiency comes at a rapidly mounting cost.

Some of the costs are derived from a traditional transcript’s inability to portray the diverse strengths of students and squandering the talents of students who, either by their own choice or circumstances beyond their control, have not navigated the system of averages well. As Rose and others have observed, the traditional system served us well during the Industrial Revolution when jobs were routine and standardized and the workforce was plentiful. However, the skills needed to succeed in a dynamic and rapidly changing workplace are vastly different now and unemployment is at a record low. So what do we do?

This week I saw the glimmer of a new dawn -- a working prototype of the mastery high school transcript, one that highlights the uniqueness of students at first glance. I saw this prototype at a two day convening of the Mastery Transcript Consortium in Fort Worth, TX attended by leaders from diverse schools across the country. The founding years of participating schools ranged from 2017 to 1854! Schools of all types -- private, independent; private boarding, public district; public charter -- were represented. The schools’ leaders are united in the belief that the system of averages for assessment and transcripts is inadequate at representing the breadth and depth of student skills and dispositions and we are committed to working together to develop a new more useful and equitable system. I’m proud to say that even though Pathways High was the youngest school in attendance, in many ways we are ahead in our work of developing mastery assessments and transcripts as we have the advantage of designing our system from scratch rather than retooling an existing system.

So, what are the elements that make the mastery transcript prototype so appealing?

Customizable and student-driven: Students can customize their personal narrative statement and their top three credits and pieces of evidence demonstrating their work performance.

Reads like an online Resume: My initial reaction to the mastery transcript prototype was that it looks like a resume with a student’s personal statement at the top followed by highlighted credits (graphically represented) and hyperlinks to student work products and a section describing any badges earned or learning experiences outside of school. The digital transcript is visually appealing, user friendly and shares many characteristics of a well-crafted resume.

Performance Evidence: Links to actual evidence of student work and mastery give depth and transparency to the student’s work record.

21st Century Skill Attainment is Prominently Visible: Without forsaking the demonstration of content knowledge, the mastery transcript provides data on credit attainment related to 21st century skills (Pathways High EMPOWER skills) like critical thinking, collaboration, and communication that are associated with success in school, career and life.

Will the mastery transcript replace the traditional GPA transcript? It’s much too soon to tell and like with any change of the status quo, there is likely to be resistance. No system of assessment or transcripting will ever be perfect. But when the system provides greater transparency into an individual’s unique capabilities that are backed up with performance evidence, this information will translate into better decision-making for prospective postsecondary institutions and employers. In our data driven society, who doesn’t want that?

In just over a year, 234 schools from around the world have become members of The Mastery Transcript Consortium. Higher ed institutions are also joining the movement and membership is growing rapidly. One thing’s for sure, we’re moving closer to the end of average. Will you join us?


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