Very Big Deal: Busting the Dam of College Admissions

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Very Big Deal: Busting the Dam of College Admissions

For educators, this might be one of those moments you remember for many years to come: when you heard that we are going to radically change and improve how we break down the dam to school innovation that we call the college admissions process.  You heard it here first!

Yesterday at the NAIS annual conference, Scott Looney and Doris Korda of the Hawken School in Cleveland announced that Hawken is moving forward as lead school in a consortium to design, test, and ultimately scale a new high school student transcript that can replace the traditional grade-based resume.  All the ‘whys” that the traditional report card is no longer a valid measurement of student success are too numerous to go into here; let’s summarize it as Scott did:

In America today we give roughly 50% “A’s” and 50% other grades.  We essentially have two grades in America: A and Not A. It doesn’t mean anything.

A year ago Scott shared with me that Hawken began prototyping what he describes as “a replacement for the traditional transcript. The Mastery Transcript Consortium, we hope, will begin a conversation and collective effort to allow families and schools a way to move from time based, graded transcripts toward an ungraded mastery oriented transcript.”  They have accessed an existing data model used by the health care industry that can gather original student documents and inputs as evidence “under” the teacher assessments.  They have started to design what the ultimate resume will look like.  And most critically, they have already gone out to college presidents and admissions officers to get user feedback.  Scott said that one college president was very skeptical of how they could evaluate a non-grade-based transcript buried amongst the 45,000 applications they receive. When Scott assured him that the new format would take no more than 2 minutes to review, the college president took a very positive turn.

Hawken has a very intentional development and roll-out plan.  They are going to start with a small group of well-known, unimpeachable independent schools, because the schools ARE independent, and because the students from these schools are in high demand by most colleges.  Colleges already have a solid baseline for student assessment and admissions evaluation for these schools.  Once that group has built the prototype and received college user feedback, they will expand to about 100 schools. That will be the tipping point. Colleges will have many reasons to accept, and a hard time NOT accepting, the new transcript. Ultimately, the goal is to make the product available to any public or private school that wants to participate.

In my opinion, this is a VERY big deal with the potential to be a true game-changer like few other efforts we have seen in recent years.  The rigidity of college admissions is still highly skewed to standardized assessments that we KNOW do not accurately predict how well students will succeed in their future, that measure against the “average” that we KNOW is meaningless to the individual learner and drives us to focus our resources on massive quantities of content knowledge we don’t truly value.  Breaking this obstacle to innovation in high schools will allow schools of every kind to dramatically innovate and differentiate their learning programs. Hawken has invited me to attend their first consortium gathering in April and I will share what I can when I can, so stay tuned to this major effort.

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  1. Scott Looney February 26, 2016 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    Grant….thanks for the shout out and support. Important to note this is NOT a resume….it is, in fact, replacement for the traditional transcript. The Mastery Transcript Consortium, we hope, will begin a conversation and collective effort to allow families and schools a way to move from time based, graded transcripts toward an ungraded mastery oriented transcript. I appreciate your support and partnership on this effort. Look forward to having you in Cleveland to kick this effort off.

    • Grant February 27, 2016 at 12:01 am - Reply

      Thanks, I will edit and update tonight with the proper language.

  2. Deborah Bright February 27, 2016 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    This is wonderful inspiring and challenging! Thanks to both Scott and Grant. I am joining a new school next year, and helping to build a high school from the ground up. You better believe I sent along Grant’s post and Scott’s article to my new admin! So exciting!

  3. Doris Korda February 28, 2016 at 12:06 am - Reply

    Thanks, Grant – excited to have you join us in April!

  4. Thomas Steele-Maley February 29, 2016 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Agree that this is a huge step and sorry to miss the presentation! This was described by James Scott in an administrators roundtable at Punahou last month (ISEEN16) and I had an immediate feeling that vital motions were afoot — excellent!

  5. Jon Freer March 24, 2016 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Thanks Grant. I was at that workshop and left feeling very excited about what can be. Do you have any sense of how I might follow the progress of this initiative? I am interested in sharing it with my school leaders.


    • Grant March 24, 2016 at 1:48 pm - Reply

      I would let Scott Looney know you are interested; I am sure they are keeping some kind of interest mail list. At the meeting in April I am sure I will be allowed to blog certain updates, so check my blog posts in late April and after that. Thanks!

  6. Tyler Hodges February 28, 2017 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Fascinating and needed. Would love to learn more and participate.

    • Grant February 28, 2017 at 6:23 pm - Reply

      They have some YouTube videos up right now; I will have blog post out tomorrow, and I think their web site will go live tomorrow as well.

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