“I love how the Mastery Transcript is a living document that can really reflect your full high school career,” said a graduating senior at Gibson Ek High School who was one of the first students to use the new transcript for college admissions.
The college application process was not without stress for her, but she was grateful for the Mastery Transcript and its role in helping her get into a college that would be a good fit for her. She will head off to Harvey Mudd College in the fall of 2020, with deep experience from high school internships (including at an organization specializing in sponsoring local events) and an ongoing interest in work that has a higher purpose.
“The Mastery Transcript was part of a culture that is really cultivated at our school, where students are encouraged to develop and express their own interests. There was also a heavy emphasis on real-world learning, and I enjoyed being able to grow my projects in ways that go beyond myself and are bigger and more beneficial to the wider community.”
Many teachers have long believed that education should not be a “one-size-fits-all” endeavor, and the past year was an important validator of that. During the 2019-2020 MTC pilot year, four member schools sent out Mastery Transcripts to a wide range of two and four-year colleges and universities. Dozens of colleges and universities reviewed applicants with Mastery Transcripts and all were able to use it as part of their admissions process. As of this writing, MTC is aware of 85 offers of admission from nearly 60 colleges, including Arizona State University, Auburn University, Caltech, Colorado State, Harvey Mudd College, Merrimack College, Northeastern University, Reed College, University of Idaho, University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Washington Seattle, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, University of Vermont, Washington State University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, among others.
"Admissions offices had great feedback, both on my transcript and on the outlook for a new transcript generally. I feel ready for college; this type of learning and the transcript process has given me a type of independence that I really need. It has showcased my drive for hard work...that I can succeed...and taught me to advocate," said Hadley Lewis, a student from the Forest School, who was officially the first student to earn college admission with the Mastery Transcript. She will head to Auburn University in the fall.
In the coming year, MTC will at least triple the number of member schools using the Mastery Transcript, with students from more than a dozen member schools already planning to use it as they apply to college in 2020-2021.
"The expanded and diverse group of sending schools for Fall 2020 marks an exciting and significant leap forward as about two hundred students apply to college from high schools in eight different states," said Patricia Russell, Chief Education Officer for MTC, who led the pilot effort along with Mike Flanagan, Chief Product Officer. The MTC product team is ready for the next stage of growth, with a roll out of the enterprise edition of the Mastery Transcript underway.
“The more schools using the Mastery Transcript across the nation, the better,” said Julia Bamba, principal of Gibson Ek in Washington state. “It will enhance the connectivity of our peer network and increase higher ed’s experiences with the transcript. We are each doing the work for one another and supporting one another as we spread the word and understanding across diverse parts of the country. It will also enable us to track more kids during the course of their college experiences.”
“No longer is it about the student working to fit into higher ed’s box,” said Heidi McLaughlin, an MTC site director and the high school counselor at Winooski High School in Vermont, whose graduating students piloted the transcript this year and is already helping 2021 graduates prepare to apply to college or the workforce in the fall. “Instead it’s about higher ed really learning about each student and what each one can bring to campus.”
MTC continues to work closely with admissions leaders from colleges and universities, to support sustainable change in higher education admissions. MTC’s Higher Ed Advisory Group members are from a range of colleges throughout the country, and the transcript development team is conducting user testing with other colleges of different types and sizes throughout the country. Many have offered valuable ideas for improving the transcript, but have overall appreciated that the Mastery Transcript offers more nuance and depth than grades and GPA’s, while still providing a consistent format and more useful information about the student.
“We care deeply about the collaborative spirit that we can’t get from [standardized] testing, grades and GPA. We need a better understanding of how kids work with their peers—that is really beneficial for the selection process,” said Jarrid Whitney, assistant vice president for student affairs, enrollment and career services at Caltech, which admitted its first student this year who used the Mastery Transcript as part of the application process.
Now, more than ever, school leaders in K12 and higher ed alike are questioning the efficacy and equity of instruments commonly used to assess student performance. Standardized tests are no longer universally trusted or even available; in response to COVID-19, many schools pivoted to pass/no credit grading for the spring term, and remote learning has challenged traditional pedagogies and students' access to educational tools and resources. Increasingly educational leaders are wondering: How can we create learning experiences that keep learners engaged even when they are not captive in traditional classrooms? How can we empower them to set goals, collaborate, work hard, and then proudly demonstrate what they've actually learned, in a way that is useful to readers of all types? In short, isn't there a better way?
“It might seem strange, but I feel a moment of hope in this spring’s crisis. The lack of traditional grades and standardized tests this spring allow all of us to open our thinking to the more authentic, engaging ways we support student learning and know what students know,” said Stacy Caldwell, CEO of MTC, who also commented that “learning” and the true value of it--preparing students to thrive during college, career, and life in a complex world--has been missing from much of the recent, national debate on education. Instead the conversation has largely focused on tests, grades, and admissions as a series of interlocking variables connected to the game of applying to college, rather than connected to how those elements support student growth and learning.
Many in education believe that, in the coming months and years, there will be an even greater focus on honoring deeper learning that prepares students for a complex world and on holistic admissions to help readers understand each student’s challenges and achievements better. This approach has great potential for supporting all students in finding the “best fit” college for their needs (and helping colleges do the same as they admit students who will thrive on their campuses). But it also brings great potential for opening up access, equal access, for students to demonstrate their full selves and take advantage of the opportunities they are interested in to move their lives and their work forward.
“I believe that the Mastery Transcript will give us better context,” said Zina Evans, vice president for enrollment management and associate provost at University of Florida and a member of MTC’s growing Higher Ed Advisory Group. “It doesn’t matter whether those students are in a suburban or under-resourced high school—if what I believe is going to come out is more about what that student had to work with and then what that student was able to do, how he or she was able to develop skills. That is what is really exciting here—universally seeing not only skill sets, but also the deeper context in which those skills were achieved.”
MTC has come a long way in just three short years. The nonprofit organization officially launched in March 2017 and, in May 2017, was awarded a $2 million Collaborative Innovation Grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation to support its initial work, under the direction of E.E. Ford Executive Director John Gulla. The $2 million from the Foundation matched the $2 million the founding schools raised to support the building of the Mastery Transcript’s technology platform. Since then, the member network has grown (now well over 300), work with higher-ed has expanded, and students began using the new transcript well ahead of the original schedule (which had originally looked like a five to 10 year endeavor).
“It has been exciting to witness the progress unfold,” said John Gulla, executive director of the Edward E. Ford Foundation, who commented that the number of member schools stood at just 80 when the foundation announced its support for the new Consortium. “What excites me most is the potential to remove the constraints that exist in the traditional grading system. For some, letter grades may be an effective method of assessing their progress, but this compressed, linear measure clearly doesn't work well for all students. My hope for young people is they have freedom to choose among a variety of schools as they make a life of their own design.”
As the effort continues to gain momentum and open up new possibilities, the future looks promising for MTC and the movement for educational change more broadly.
“In the long run, if we are successful in transforming how we deliver education to students and ultimately how we assess that…I believe MTC will have been a catalyst to that movement,” said Kedra Ishop, PhD, vice provost for enrollment management at University of Michigan (who recently left Michigan to lead admissions at USC) and a member of MTC’s Higher Ed Advisory Group.