Grading Ahead of the Curve: Skills-Based Assessments and the Mastery Transcript Consortium
As an avid collector of baseball cards in my youth, I can recall the excitement when opening each pack containing a few dozen cards. While chewing the piece of pink bubblegum from the pack, I would spend countless hours reviewing the profiles of every player. This exercise would prompt many questions. What information highlights certain trends in a player’s development? Which players had a breakout year? How do the statistics across various categories tell a cohesive story about the player’s abilities, growth, and potential? Well after the bubblegum became stale, I would still revel in the joyful exploration of each player’s unique talents as displayed from one card to the next.
What if every student could receive a similar portrait, one that provides a visual display of the academic skills, character traits, and meaningful learning attributes developed through the journey of a K-12 education?
This is the question we are exploring at Ensworth alongside 160 forward-thinking schools across the globe in a new group called The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), which “is organized around the development of creating an alternative model of assessment, crediting, and transcript generation. This model calls for students to demonstrate a mastery of skills, knowledge, and habits of mind by presenting evidence that is assessed in line with a school’s specific standards of mastery.”
Our participation with MTC offers an opportunity to renew our commitment to a skills-based approach to teaching and learning. We are engaging in robust conversations about how our current practices shape and inspire meaningful learning for our students. We are reflecting on how we articulate the skills mastered by each individual student. We are asking what information is embedded within traditional numerical and letter grades. Our independent school peers within MTC are engaging in similar conversations. Ultimately, we hope that our collaboration and partnership with MTC can lead toward the long-term goal of inventing a shared, but not identical, tool to illustrate each student’s academic growth, character development, and an overall skills profile at key benchmarks during the educational journey.
Engaging conversations are taking place between MTC and college admissions deans, which have produced several concerns about the relationship between preparation for college and college admissions. Colleges are seeking students who are more equipped with abilities that align with our own Core Skills. MTC schools are wary about distilling all of a student’s knowledge, skills, and learning traits into a single number or letter grade. While students may earn an identical grade in a course, their development of unique skills can be quite different. Also, colleges are seeking students with key character traits, such as grit, curiosity, and optimism that are not explicitly articulated on a current high school transcript.
There will be significant work ahead for us and our MTC partners, as we are still in the early stages of an exciting and unpredictable process of designing a new high school transcript. We continue to work our way through challenging questions such as: What is our current skill-based approach to learning now, and what do we want it to look like in the future? What do we want every student to demonstrate at key junctures in the K-12 Ensworth experience? How should assessment and grading practices evolve to support students’ development of the Core Skills and other mission-driven qualities? We will devote much time toward digging into these questions with various experiments, pilot testing, and ongoing forward thinking. Stay tuned!