The Mastery Transcript

In recent years, educators at some of the nation’s top high schools have been working to replace the traditional high school transcript and its simple summary of courses and grades with a far richer picture of students’ secondary school experiences. A feature story in The Washington Post Magazine explores the growing movement to introduce a new “mastery transcript” and its important consequences for secondary education. Excerpts from the piece paint a picture of the Mastery Transcript, designed by Scott Looney, leader in private education, and Doris Korda, software entrepreneur turned high school math teacher:

Looney and Korda built the mastery transcript together, combining the concept of “micro-credentials” emerging in higher education with a version of the digital portfolio — featuring students’ work samples — that Looney had discovered at the Lerner medical school. The transcript would reflect students’ mastery of competencies in half a dozen curriculum areas selected by their schools, many of them reaching beyond the borders of conventional high school subjects and classrooms. Students might earn mastery credits for “understanding cultural differences” in a school’s “global perspectives” curriculum category, for example, by studying non-Western history or by working on immigration issues at a local nonprofit.

In a sharp break with tradition, mastery credits would be based on a school’s standards rather than teacher judgment — in the same way that Advanced Placement tests are scored against national AP standards. Students would submit work to teams of teachers and outside experts, earning credit if they met school benchmarks. If not, they’d improve their work and resubmit it, a process stressing student growth. “Grades are teacher-level credits, not institutional credits, and given the arbitrariness of teacher grading, class rankings are absurd,” Looney told us.

An early sketch of the transcript looked like a page full of Boy Scout badges. With the help of a Seattle consulting company, Looney settled on a landing page with students’ contact information and personal statements, a school profile and a graphic akin to a theater-in-the-round seating chart showing the number of credits students earned in each of their schools’ focus areas. It also included summaries of the work students submitted to earn mastery credits — writing, presentations, performances, charts, graphs and photographs, all of which could be uploaded into the transcript and were clickable — as well as a statement of the school’s standards, a description of how many advanced credits students at the school typically earn, and teacher comments. There would be no grades.

The transcript also addresses higher education’s concerns, including distinguishing between “foundational credits” that represent graduation requirements and “advanced credits.” A summary page is readable in three minutes, the amount of time admissions officers said they could give the transcript during a first read. The transcripts are printable as PDFs to put in admissions folders — another nod to colleges. 

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