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Sunday, May 21, 2017
Reframing the Value of the High School Grading System
Any parent who has ever had a child struggle in school understands the inherent fallibility of using grades to measure a child's worth. Intelligence and accomplishment are difficult to quantify using a single digit, and evaluating a student's future potential necessarily requires more than a cursory read through a report card. There is no place this plays out more starkly than through the college admissions process.
University admissions committees are responsible for a truly impossible task-evaluating human beings using a transcript of letters and numbers. Though most colleges claim to view a student's talents holistically, how comprehensive can that review really be in the absence of getting to know the person behind the grades? This vulnerability is the pivot point for endless hand-wringing about the magical formula for college admission.
The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) is a collective of U.S. high schools working to change the way teachers grade their high school students. They see the current grading system as an outmoded one that teaches students "to value extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation". It sees the segregation of academic disciplines as artificial. The current grading system focuses on "the acquisition of information rather than the making of meaning".
MTC's vision would group metrics differently, allow measurement of performance areas rather than subjects, and assessment of mastery standards on a skill-by-skill basis. It is a beautiful idea that likely faces an uphill battle in implementation in a society where public schools are overburdened already with stretched budgets and overworked teachers (for whom the grading process would become more time-consuming and complex).
That said, a new method could revolutionize the way that colleges evaluate incoming students, fleshing out the souls behind the records. Ironically, MTC's system would most likely work best for higher income students, who are already at a great advantage over their lower income peers. As it stands, MTC's collective is comprised largely of private high schools with smaller student-teacher ratios. These are precisely the institutions with the functional and financial means to execute holistic grading in the first place.
Still, the concept of modifying grading at the high school level could have exceptional long-term benefits on the college admissions process.
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