Tag: grading and transcripts

Much Ado About Mastery-Based Transcripts: What Schools Need to Know and What They Can Do

August 15, 2017 by

From University of Wisconsin Flexible Options

As more and more schools across the United States make the transition to proficiency-, competency-, or mastery-based systems* of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting, one question often comes to dominate conversations in community after community: How will mastery-based grades and transcripts impact students when they apply to college? In fact, this question can become so emotionally urgent for some students and families that it can render all other issues—including all the many advantages and benefits of mastery-based learning—effectively invisible.

Over the past decade, the Great Schools Partnership and the New England Secondary School Consortium have worked with hundreds of districts, schools, colleges, and universities across New England and the country on a wide range of issues related to mastery-based education, grades, and transcripts. After thousands of hours of conversations, meetings, interviews, presentations, workshops, and working groups, we’re confident we’ve learned a thing or two about the topic.

Here’s what you need to know about navigating the transition to mastery-based transcripts in your community.

The Facts

In the many conversations and meetings we’ve we had with colleges and universities, admissions officers have repeatedly told us—unequivocally—that mastery-based grades and transcripts will pose no problems whatsoever for applicants to their institutions. In fact, many of these institutions—including some of the most highly selective institutions in the world, such as Harvard and MIT—have provided public statements expressing this position. And the New England Board of Higher Education even published a position paper on mastery-based transcripts and college admissions that affirms what admission officers have been telling us for years: there is no cause for concern as long as sending schools provide some basic information and context explaining their systems.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Concerns about mastery-based transcripts are largely unfounded. And more often than not, they are based on assumptions that are easily dispelled. In general, admissions offices will happily discuss any concerns that school leaders, guidance counselors, and prospective applicants and their families may have. If you have questions, pick up the phone. Or read this interview with Nancy Davis Griffin, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at the University of Southern Maine—she will tell you a lot of what you need to know.
  • College and university admissions offices receive—and always have—a huge variety of transcripts, school profiles, and other academic records, including transcripts from international institutions, foreign-language schools, home-schooled students, and countless non-traditional educational institutions and programs. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say that there is actually no such thing as a “traditional” transcript, given that admissions offices have been receiving a huge variety of transcripts, and from every corner of the globe, for generations.
  • Colleges and universities simply do not discriminate against applicants based on the grading system or transcripts of their sending school, as long as the school’s documentation clearly presents and describes its policies, programs, and practices. If a postsecondary institution happens to have a specific admissions requirement that is not directly addressed in a school’s standard transcript or school profile, they typically contact the school to request the necessary information. If any information gaps emerge over time, schools can then modify their transcripts and profiles to include the required information.
  • As long as the school profile is comprehensive and understandable, and it clearly explains important information such as the content and rigor of the academic program, the technicalities of the assessment and grading systems, and the characteristics of the graduating class, then admissions office will have no problem understanding the transcript and properly evaluating the strength of a student’s academic record and accomplishments—after all, this is what they do, quite literally, thousands of times of every year.
  • Secondary schools use so many different systems for educating, categorizing, assessing, grading, ranking, and tracking students—and always have—that these many diverse systems can only be fully understood when a school clearly articulates how its policies work and submits a comprehensive school profile. A course title, grade, GPA, or class rank, for example, doesn’t mean much unless the admissions office also has the “key” (e.g., the school profile) it needs to understand how the system works and how the applicant performed in that system.
  • The rigor and quality of the school’s academic program, and understanding how an applicant performed in that system, matters much more than class rank or artificial “rank-enhancers” such as weighted grades (in fact, many admissions offices will “unweight” weighted grades). An admissions office wants to know that applicants have been intellectually challenged, that the school’s courses and learning experiences are rigorous, that the applicant performed well in those courses, and that the applicant is prepared to thrive academically in their program. The irony: If well designed, a mastery-based transcript will actually satisfy all of these admissions needs far better than so-called “traditional” transcripts.

What Schools Can Do

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Red Flag: Converting 1-4 to 100 Point Scale and then Averaging

July 31, 2017 by

We have a problem. More and more districts and schools are supposedly converting to competency education, but they are doing so without committing to the big idea that we want to make sure every students succeeds. Committing to the big idea is essential — some might call this demanding excellence, others equity. In competency education, it really becomes the same thing.

At CompetencyWorks, we’ve realized that it isn’t going to help to keep talking about the exemplars (from districts that are able to show that students are benefiting) and the “look-fors” (what we think are effective practices based on visiting so many schools) that we include in our case studies of districts and schools. We also need to talk about the red flags (a sign that something isn’t working right) and missteps (either problematic design or implementation) to help districts identify potential problems sooner.

This morning I read an article about a community in Maine that may be taking a misstep with their new diploma system. The article focuses on the issue of grading, and it appears that they are missing the concept of why 1-4 scoring is more valuable than A-F grading. It’s not clear what else they may have or are planning to put into place – so I’m not referring to their overall plan.

              From the article: An initial draft of the proficiency based diploma was introduced at the May 15 School Committee meeting. Using the new proficiency based learning system, the draft stated that students are evaluated on a 1 to 4 scale, with 1 corresponding to “does not meet proficiency” to 4 which is “exceeds proficiency.” The initial draft took the proficiency grades (1-4) and converted them into numerical grades (100 point scale)… An example from the Proficiency Based Learning and Diploma Implementation Proposal: A student earns a 77, 85, and 88 (out of a 100 point scale) on three assessments for a graduation standard. The average of these three is 83. Therefore, the numeric grade is 83; the proficiency score for that graduation standard is 3.0 (a.k.a. proficient).

From what I can tell, it looks like the district shifts from A-F (which is usually based on a 100 point scale), turned it to 1-4, and then turned it back into the 100 point scale. (more…)

Goodbye ABCs: How One State is Moving Beyond Grade Levels and Graded Assessments

June 6, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on May 16, 2017.

The term “grades” has become almost taboo among some educators in New Hampshire, where seven elementary schools are slowly ditching the word altogether through a program known as NG2. The program—short for “no grades, no grades”—is hallmarked by the schools shifting to a more competency-based assessment structure and removal of grade levels.

Mary Earick, project director for NG2, says the purpose of the program is to create more flexible learning pathways for students through “competency-based multiage schooling,” which allows students to move on to new objectives only after mastering others.

“[NG2] tackles long-standing educational barriers to personalized learning . . . that of ‘Grades,’” Earick writes in an upcoming report on the project. Those barriers include “(1) student assessments that don’t accurately reflect students’ true understandings and skills and (2) methods for grouping students (by age) that often poorly align to their true needs as learners.”

The program follows six key tenets: project-based learning, learner agency, whole person development, blended learning and competency-based assessment. New Hampshire schools participating in NG2 represent urban, suburban and rural parts of the state. While the elementary schools are alike in piloting a “no grades, no grades” structure, each was given flexibility for how it would implement the program specifically.

“We don’t talk about that [grades] anymore,” says Amy Allen, principal at Parker Varney Elementary, a NG2 school. For Allen, moving away from just using the word “grades” has been an important piece of keeping students motivated in the program. So if a first-grade student is attending a kindergarten intervention group, he is not told he is going to a kindergarten class. Instead, he might be going to see “team cooperation.”

Allen says that about 80 percent of the school is participating in the pilot. There are two separate K-2 groupings, one second/third grade group, and a fourth/fifth group. (The other 20 percent of the school, including a standalone kindergarten and third-grade class, are sticking to the status quo.) (more…)

Looking to Ditch Traditional Grades? Here’s How to Get Stakeholders On Board

June 2, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on May 17, 2017.

You know that old interview question: What would change in education if you had a magic wand? For Scott Looney, there’d be no hesitating: He would have every school switch from traditional grading to competency-based evaluations. “They’re more authentic, more meaningful, and more logical,” he explains. “They just make sense.”

Looney is the mastermind behind the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), an organization made up of over 100 private schools. Rather than a traditional GPA, the group imagines a credit-based transcript , with links to artifacts that demonstrate students’ mastery across different competencies. The basic premise is that by providing a more complex and accurate picture of students, academic needs can be better met, colleges can make more informed admissions decisions, and intrinsic motivation will follow.

The MTC is not alone in its mission. An increasing number of schools—including charter and traditional public schools—are making a similar move to ditch traditional grades in favor of a more robust approach to assessing students’ skills. Whether they call it competency-, mastery-, or standards-based grading, the movement aims to improve students outcomes sans As, Bs, and Cs.

But making the switch may be easier said than done. Competency and mastery-based evaluations often require more work from teachers, more self-motivation from students, and less certainty when it comes to the college application process. So how to reap the benefits of competency-based education and make sure parents, teachers and other stakeholders are on board? We check in with the schools in the process of figuring that out.

Spoiler: it may boil down to good communication. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

by

What's new! star graphicSchool Designs

Grade Levels

  • New Hampshire is moving beyond grade levels and graded assessments through a new program called NG2 (no grades, no grades), with seven participating elementary schools.
  • Incoming freshmen at Windsor Locks (CT) will be the first class to graduate under a proficiency-based approach, which forgoes letter grades and asks students to demonstrate mastery of skills.

High School Transcripts

News

Updates in New Hampshire

  • A researcher found that students in PACE districts outperformed their peers in non-participating districts across the board, starting in the second year of the program’s implementation. But the her most notable finding? Special education students in PACE districts did basically as well as students who weren’t on special education plans.
  • Tom Raffio, former State Board of Education chairman, reflects on important changes in New Hampshire’s education system over the last ten years.
  • New Hampshire’s Parker-Varney school released an excellent case study, Putting Kids at the Center: Building Parker-Varney’s Future of Learning, which shares their vision and journey toward competency education.

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The Power of Grades

March 24, 2017 by

GradesThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on December 19, 2016. 

There are few fields where talk of equity is as ubiquitous as it is in education. For all of that, our system of education remains remarkable for its ability to continually reproduce inequitable outcomes along race, class, and gender lines. Up to now, efforts to foster equity in education can be grouped into two broad categories: reforms focused on the input of resources, or those focused on the output of achievement. While debates drag on around the input of funding and output of standardized test scores, what is focused on far less often is what happens inside the system.

Traditional grading deserves its own debate. Every day students interact with a structure of feedback that places their learning on an alphanumeric scale. At best, this feedback system is non-descriptive; at worst, it is one of the most fundamental pieces of a system that was designed to produce stratification. By its very nature, traditional alphanumeric grading aims to separate “strong” and “weak” students. Final grades are made up of an average of any number of learning tasks, attendance requirements, homework completion, and demonstration of learning on assessments. While each of these tasks may well have discrete and useful feedback, all of that information is aggregated into a non-descript label: A, B, C, D, F or 1-100. A grade of B can mean many things even within a single classroom, and so can an F. This lack of clarity grows exponentially between classrooms and more still between schools. While in some classes students are given A’s as a reward for sitting quietly, other classes demand that learning take place, and most demand a unique blend of both, none of this information is explicit in the end-of-course grade. Traditional grading fails to communicate to students what they know and don’t know, while conveying a false sense of objectivity provided by the use of numbers or letters to calibrate student performance.

Rather than providing accurate and complete feedback, grades label students as “good” or “bad” students. While every teacher knows the benefit of momentum — that knowledge builds on knowledge, and success builds on success — traditional grades halt this momentum, declaring learning on a certain task over, signaling the end of what is actually an iterative process. Imagine a student who has studied lots, worked hard, and is waiting eagerly for feedback on her most recent assessment. And then imagine she was wrong; she was unprepared (or the task was unclear, or the grading biased), and she receives a D. Her face falls; she is discouraged, maybe she folds into herself, maybe she withdraws from trying so hard again. This single label has changed her. When a child receives a low or failing grade, she internalizes the message that she is a failure, that she cannot learn. Students who experience repetitive failure are less likely to re-engage with material and eventually come to think of themselves as bad students who don’t deserve to do well. In this way, traditional grading and assessments can be traumatizing for struggling students, creating a learning identity that becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

January 31, 2017 by

What's NewLindsay Unified School District transitioned to a performance-based learning system and is seeing results—with a 92% graduation rate (compared to 73% prior to transitioning); 42% of graduates currently attend a four-year university (compared to 21% before); and over 70% of graduates of those students will have a degree within 6 years. With Lindsay High School being recognized for its accomplishments by the White House in Washington, D.C., ranking in the 99th percentile of schools in California that are drug-free, bully-free, alcohol-free, and learner-focused, one would have a hard time finding someone who didn’t view Lindsay Unified School District as not only one of the top school districts in Tulare County, or in the state, but, arguably, in the nation.

Lindsay Unified School District released a new book: Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts Toward Personalized Learning.

MCIEA Accountability Principles

The Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment (MCIEA) is creating a new school accountability model in Massachusetts that champions students, teachers and families. They adopted the following seven principles for creating a fair and effective accountability system:

MCIEA Accountability Principles

Open Requests for Proposals

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

November 18, 2016 by

What's NewNew Policy Resources for ESSA

School Models

Thought Leadership

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

October 20, 2016 by

What's NewVirgel Hammonds of KnowledgeWorks explains the difference between traditional and competency education. You can watch the video to learn more.

News

  • Clark County School District in Las Vegas will open the nation’s first Marzano Academy, adopting strategies from Dr. Robert Marzano (co-founder of Colorado-based Marzano Research).
  • Lindsay Unified Public Schools, a rural, public school in California’s Central Valley, is hoping to share its competency-based approach and change management practices.

State Updates

  • The U.S. Education Department approved the extension of New Hampshire’s competency-based assessment pilot.
  • The Maine Cohort for Customized Learning and Thomas College’s Center for Innovation in Education held a one-day summit to provide teachers with a statewide opportunity to share and collaborate, problem solve and create new action steps to address the largest implementation issues.
  • Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have a historic opportunity to redesign systems of assessments and rethink accountability to support personalized learning. This article explores how Virginia is moving toward next generation accountability and and performance assessments.
  • Illinois is developing a new state plan under ESSA, the new federal K-12 education law.
  • Westminster Public Schools in Colorado began implementing competency education in 2009. This article explores how competency education is at odds with Colorado’s statewide accountability system.

School Updates

  • Deer-Isle Stonington Elementary School is adopting a proficiency-based grading system, which the high school is already working with (read more about Deer-Isle Stonington’s High School here).
  • In this article, Michael Horn explores the inputs and outcomes in credit recovery at LA Unified.
  • America Heritage (Idaho Falls) is embracing mastery-based education as one of 20 statewide “incubators” or pilots aimed at providing mastery-based education to students in 2016-17.
  • California’s Del Lago Academy created a competency-based approach which allows students to collect badges to prove their skills to colleges and employers, reinforcing the pipeline to college and career.
  • Superintendent of RSU5 in Maine, Dr. Becky Foley, explains the shift toward student-centered learning in their district as they continue to implement competency education from PreK-12. 

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