From schools who’ve tipped the scales and encouraged their Boards to place their bets on innovative plans to move to a fully competency-based model over the next few years, to schools who have developed smaller program-based pathways that help advance student learning through deeply engaging experiences, MTC member schools are seizing the opportunities they’ve discovered amidst extreme challenges posed by pandemic-era schooling as they reimagine instructional design, break through the wall of traditional assessment methods and work to develop meaningful connections with students without the guaranteed in-person experiences upon which we all typically rely.
The conversations and the opportunities we’ve been finding within them have led to some fascinating themes of resilience and silver linings, shifting mindsets, leaning in big yet starting small, and commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.
Many school leaders also note the realization that learners may not have achieved all that they would have in a traditional school year. As educators grapple with this reality in their strategic planning for the summer and next school year, they are mindful of the need for a solid foundation of social-emotional learning, reconnection with a refreshed approach to in-person instruction, and the nurturing of a collective, strength-based mindset that can catalyze accelerated academic growth for all learners.
In some cases, schools are continuing with the shift in grading practices that they experimented with last spring, when schools were offering solely remote instruction. Opportunities to revise and resubmit work without penalty, continuing with pass/incomplete options for students for certain programs or grade levels, and reimagining the grading system for the school as a whole are just some examples that our member schools report as opportunities the pandemic has elevated for their learning communities.
Specific examples on a larger scale include our work with the Utah State Board of Education and Utah System of Higher Education. As partners in this work towards achieving the vision and promise of competency-based education in Utah, we’re excited that USHE is working side-by-side with USBE and K-12 Utah districts, being open to shifting the focus of applicant metrics among colleges and universities across the state and allow for more holistic reviews of learner competencies in the admissions process. More to come as we continue to design opportunities for these shifts to take place in the coming months and year.
If school communities have learned anything during this time period, it’s that trial and error, innovation and tinkering, and on the spot ingenuity are welcome methods of experimentation as we collectively explore the best ways to engage learners. Whether large-scale adoption is in sight, or pioneering colleagues want to test out some hypotheses around competency-based learning, member schools have been developing different entry points for interacting with the Mastery Transcript
Myriad examples have been shared of our member schools’ sheer determination and creative thinking in focusing on ensuring quality learning experiences for students during the pandemic. Carolina Day Middle School launched their Deeper Dives competency-based experiential learning project for grades six through eight, spending the summer designing and then launching the program during the Winter/Spring terms. At San Francisco University High School, the team is actively designing ways to develop competencies around independent studies/projects that have become far more appealing to students as pathways to pursue passion projects.
In addition to our schools who are in the process of sending Mastery Transcripts as the official record for some or all students at their schools, I’ve also been hearing from schools who envision being able to send the Mastery Transcript for their students within the next couple of years. These accelerated timelines have been created as a result of the collective courage of school communities using the lessons of pandemic-era learning to guide their school change strategies.
Our global community’s collective trauma has not been limited to the devastating impacts of the pandemic. The global community, and in particular the United States, continues to experience the lasting effect of a more insidious and centuries-long social ill: racism. While the impact of racism within the fabric of every societal institution is not new–far from it, actually–many member schools are recognizing the need to engage in deep reviews, challenges, and revisions to existing curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices that have perpetuated racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, among others. Forming curriculum committees to conduct these reviews, and engaging in meaningful research and inquiry around student and alumni experiences during their school careers, member schools are unearthing and dismantling practices and building approaches to equity that will begin to eradicate the institutional bonds to unjust educational practices. Additionally, schools serving historically underserved learners are recognizing the disproportionate impact the global pandemic has had on learners and devising strategies for addressing these inequities on the ground, in real time.