Two years ago, Scott Looney, head of the Hawken School in Cleveland, told me about an idea they had to dramatically enhance high school student assessment and how that might revolutionize the outdated drivers of college admissions. He asked if I thought it would attract support from like-minded school leaders. I told him, simply, “get the first ten schools into your group and you will fundamentally change our system of education.” Two short years later, with the official launch this week of the Mastery Transcript Consortium and 55 independent schools already on board, they are well on their way. You REALLY need to know about this!
The MTC is “a collective of high schools organized around the development and dissemination of 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 then assessed against an institutionally specific standard of mastery.”
Simply, the MTC will design, test, construct, disseminate and help schools prepare for a new set of assessment options that measure what we actually value in student learning. As I was granted some informal access to the genesis of the group, I was able to focus on the MTC in a chapter in my new book, Moving the Rock: Seven Levers That Will Revolutionize Education, coming out in September:
There is an enormous, rigid dam that stresses students, constrains and frustrates teachers, frightens parents, and kills innovation at most schools. At school after school, district after district, I hear a variation on the same anxious theme: “We can be innovative in elementary and middle schools, but our parents are afraid of changes in the high school because it might jeopardize their kids’ chances at college admissions.” The twin blocks in this dam, how colleges admit students, and how college admissions in turn drive K-12 student assessment, particularly in high school, kill innovation in schools, even where entire communities want that innovation to explode. We, the community of school stakeholders, have been complicit in erecting and preserving these blocks, and we have total control over them. We built the dam; we preserve the dam; and we can bust it wide open with no permission from anyone and no threat other than to our own fear of change. The dam is rotten to its core, needing just a stick or two of well-placed dynamite to breach it forever. Why? Because just about everyone–educators, parents, students, college professors, university presidents and admissions officers, and employers—knows and agrees that the system is wrong and is only getting worse.
One of the most powerful elements of the MTC design to date is the input they received from colleges in advance of launching the initiative. In discussion with directors of admissions and college presidents, Scott and his team found a receptive audience “if you can give us something that we can initially scan in two minutes”. It is also more than serendipitous that this effort was launched the same year that dozens of colleges and universities signed on to the “Turning the Tide” manifesto that refocuses college admissions on depth, interest, and passion, and away from multiple advanced placement courses, grade point average, and shallow community service experiences.
Another powerful argument for the MTC lies in what we know about the health and wellness trends amongst high school and college students. I go into some detail about this in my book, based both on data collated by the MTC team, and from a number of other research-based sources. We know that current forms of assessment lead to elevated risks of an enormous range of negative lifestyle and health issues amongst our students and, as Scott emotionally put it to a group of school leaders last year: “We just have to stop doing this to our kids”.
“The mastery transcript is about acknowledging that we live in a changed world,” says Scott. “The MTC believes that the tools of the past may no longer work for students, teachers, colleges and our society at large. We believe it’s time for a change.” With the overwhelming response to date, it appears that Scott’s timing could not have been better. I predict that within a year or two school membership will be in the hundreds; this is a club that you absolutely want to join, and many of us eagerly await the day when a fully designed transcript of student mastery will be available to every public and private school in America.