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A Plan to Kill High School Transcripts … and Transform College Admissions

ZinheadZinhead 2473 replies137 postsRegistered User Senior Member
From Inside Higher Ed:

What if traditional high school transcripts -- lists of courses taken, grades earned and so forth -- didn't exist? That's the ambition of a new education reform movement, which wants to rebuild how high schools record the abilities of students -- and in turn to change the way colleges evaluate applicants. Sounds like quite a task. But the idea is from a group with considerable clout and money: more than 100 private schools around the country, including such elite institutions as the Dalton School and the Spence School in New York City, plus such big guns as the Cranbrook Schools in Michigan, the Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and Miss Porter's School in Connecticut.

The organizers of the effort believe all kinds of high schools and colleges are ready for change, but they argue that it will take the establishment to lead this particular revolution. Organizers believe that if more than 100 such elite private schools embrace a new transcript, they will attract supporters in higher ed who will embrace the approach for fear of losing top applicants (both in terms of their academics and ability to pay). And then the plan could spread -- over perhaps a decade -- to public high schools as well. Along the way, the group hopes to use the ideas of competency-based education -- in which demonstration of mastery matters and seat time does not -- to change the way high schoolers are taught.
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Replies to: A Plan to Kill High School Transcripts … and Transform College Admissions

  • happy1happy1 22662 replies2224 postsVerified Member Senior Member
    I don't see it in the foreseeable future. Every college admission officer I hear speak says that the foundation of the college application is the HS transcript (including course rigor and GPA) .
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  • droppeditdroppedit 1031 replies18 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    There's no way this would work at my D18's public HS. It's too subjective. There are 700+ kids in each grade and teachers wouldn't be able to do such a detailed evaluation of each one (at least honestly, many would probably just check the highest level of "mastery" on their favorites and lower on others).

    If I were to remake the current HS system I'd switch to a uniform 0-100 scale for grades nationwide accompanied by a difficulty level for the class. It would be followed up by standardized tests that draw from thousands of problems of varying difficulty (to prevent "teaching to the test" and other gaming issues) and where each student's test is different (to prevent cheating at test time).

    The one big problem is the issue of "mastery" vs. relative performance. Are colleges interested in what students "know" or how they did relative to their peers (i.e. vs. other students in their school)?

    Note that I'm not a big fan of the multiple-choice tests as currently given. With a small number of choices you can game the system (it's a test of elimination).
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  • compmomcompmom 10628 replies76 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 2017
    We all forget the original purpose of grades. They have become an end, not a means. Grades were a way to evaluate competency in the first place. I really don't think a college admits someone because they have a 97 average and their classmate's is 93. The competition with GPA and scores becomes just plain silly. Admissions should be other stuff anyway, and is already at elite colleges.

    I think it's a great idea to just get rid of grades entirely. Do they continue as a system of evaluation solely for college admissions at this point? One could argue that kids and families need grades (and college admission) to maintain motivation, but that is false motivation in the first place- external, not internal. Are schools so terrible that the only way to get kids to work is to use grades?

    Well, back to reality: the truth is that our entire educational system, especially publics, is one gigantic incentive system, based on grades, and the whole system would collapse without them.

    That doesn't mean that in an ideal world, things wouldn't be better without them. While we're at it, let's get rid of our TV's too.
    edited June 2017
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  • Studious99Studious99 888 replies23 postsRegistered User Member
    @DeepBlue86 Nice article. Thanks for sharing. I'm not sure I agreed with all of it (the BLM kid legitimately seemed impressive to me) but it was very thought provoking.
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  • cobratcobrat 12207 replies78 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 2017
    Funny part is several college classmates* I've had advocated similar reforms for high schools. No surprise considering they'd have likely benefited far better in that environment and considering the incessant complaints our undergrad Profs were "too rigid" with deadlines and expectations.

    The very complaints which puzzled me as compared to my public magnet high school, the academic expectations were on the manageable...sometimes even easy side and it seemed the Profs were willing to provide extensions to anyone requesting them.

    Even in cases where it was very obvious/apparent the requester "needed" the deadline because s/he(IME...almost always a male student) goofed off/left the assignment on the backburner until right before the deadline.

    Another case which showed how much more flexible my undergrad Profs were vs my public magnet teachers was one prof who accepted a seminar paper from an older classmate just a FEW HOURS before final grades for the semester were due to the registrar and gave him a passable grade so he could walk and graduate a few weeks later.

    My public magnet HS teachers would have told any student who pulled something like that "Congratulations, welcome to super-senior year at our HS." And then proceed to tell our GC/college office to notify colleges to rescind their admissions.

    * All respectable/elite private day/boarding school graduates.
    edited June 2017
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  • compmomcompmom 10628 replies76 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    droppedit, the problem with external motivators is that the motivation collapses when the external motivator is removed. An example is prizes for reading: after a few years of that, I have heard kids say they won't read a certain book because there is no prize. On a larger scale, I have read that some students who finally get in to Harvard et al, become depressed because their motivation is then gone (until they fix on the next competitive goal).

    Alfie Kohn's books are interesting on this subject. Rewards are every bit as destructive in the long run as punishments, and grading systems offer both.

    Human nature is what it is, and schools need to run efficiently, so I don't think public schools will be able to make these kinds of idealistic changes. But that doesn't mean I think the changes aren't a great idea. It would also be a great idea to have fewer than 24 in a 3rd grade class but local budgets cannot fund that either.
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  • mom2andmom2and 2792 replies19 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    There were colleges that tried this in the past. UC Santa Cruz in the beginning had no grades, only portfolios. However, the students had trouble getting into grad schools (esp med and law school) and the college started giving grades in some courses and I believe then went to regular grades over time.


    Similar issues for big high schools. How can a teacher realistically differentiate among the 100 kids taking biology without using grades? What would the comments be for the 50 kids that got a B or B+? I don't believe this would change competition either. The highly motivated kids would still want to get the evaluation that says "Suzy is one of the top students out of the 100 I taught this year".
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  • romanigypsyeyesromanigypsyeyes 33211 replies767 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    That's not true that once a motivator is removed, we'll stop doing it. In fact, any trainer of animals (and humans are animals) will tell you that they'll keep doing the trick or behavior long after rewards are removed. (Though giving an occasional reward does help with retention.)

    Some people need grades as motivators. Some don't. That doesn't mean at all that we'll collapse if they're gone.

    I openly admit that in many of my courses, I really just cared about the grade. Same as many of my grad school friends. Now that we have written evals instead of grades, there's been no collapse in motivation. Even after the written evals are done.

    On the other hand, there are others who only care about the grade so they can get whatever degree because they need the credentials. Yes, for them the motivation may collapse because they had no real motivation in the first place other than they were told they needed the grade. But they'll more likely just put their energy towards the new requirements to get the degree.

    My high school had over 6k people. Written evals are not even in the realm of possibility.
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  • eiholieiholi 296 replies16 postsRegistered User Member
    I agree with @compmom this (giving no grades) could be a great idea. It should work if they get rid of the coachable standardized tests (SAT/ACT) as well. Instead, each college can offer a 2-hr mixed subject test made by freshmen class professors with a few questions from math, English, CS, arts, etc., with no need for preparation. Low degree of agreement between HS evaluation and the college test leads an application to the trash bin. That saves HS students on test preps and test taking unless one wants to apply to too many colleges.
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  • rhandcorhandco 4240 replies55 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    A teacher has to have something to support a letter grade. Completely holistic assessments require two things to be taken seriously:
    - a high school with an excellent national or worldwide reputation
    - a real ranking of students

    That last point, which harkens to letters of recommendation, is a stickler. You can imagine that they will be ranking students as follows:
    - top 5% of all students taught
    - top 10% of all students taught
    - top 20% of all student taught
    - not ranked

    So will every single student at these top prep high school be above average? Will Harvard take someone with no grades who is not ranked = "bottom 80% of students"?

    It seems like an ego trip to me, another elitist excuse for "everybody gets a trophy".
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