Districts and schools that choose to use a proficiency-based transcript for their college-bound students have nothing to fear. I encourage school board members, administrators, teachers, students, and parents to read the literature on proficiency-based transcripts as a way to help assuage concerns. I encourage the more tenacious readers (or those of you with some extra time on your hands!) to read in their entirety each of the articles cited below. For the rest of you, I have attempted to distill some common themes and critical points I gleaned from my own read of them.
Myth: proficiency-based transcripts will disadvantage students
College and university admissions personnel resoundingly state that the submission of a proficiency-based transcript for a prospective student will not adversely affect that student in the admissions process. There is common and widespread consensus that admissions personnel have traditionally read “applications from across the country and around the world, which represent a diverse range of high school environments and a variety of grading scales, terminology and transcript design. Admissions officers work diligently to understand the nuances of each learning environment, which informs the context in which applicants are evaluated” (New England Board of Higher Education). Many institutions in fact, have issued public statements indicating their welcoming posture toward proficiency-based transcripts. According to the New England Secondary School Consortium, “Admissions staff members already know how to understand and compare varied forms of transcripts. The primary task of secondary schools is to present what the student has learned and accomplished during school in the most clear and helpful way possible.”
What colleges want to see in transcripts
Presenting a student’s academic information “in the most helpful way possible” includes using a transcript that both reveals a great deal of pertinent information and which reads easily and quickly. The New England Secondary School Consortium provides a list of recommended items to include on any transcript. Their list mentions items such as academic summary: GPA, Latin Honors designation; a full list of learning experiences aligned with proficiency level, duration of the experience, and type: standard or honors course, dual-enrollment college course, independent study, internship, or other experience. The guidance to include these, and other items, reminds us that the form of the transcript is bound to vary from school to school, but that some of the content is non-negotiable. High schools using proficiency-based transcripts are well aware of this fact and work hard to honor it. Remember that they too have a vested stake in their students being accepted at institutions of higher learning. In my last post, I shared what a JumpRope proficiency-based transcript looks like. In my next post, I will share more examples of proficiency-based transcripts. You can take a look for yourself to see that the JumpRope example and the other examples meet the criteria recommended by the New England Secondary School Consortium.
The value of the school profile
The partner to the transcript on the path to sharing academic information “in the most helpful way possible” is the school profile. The school profile is essentially a high school’s key or guide to interpreting its transcript. Again, the New England Secondary School Consortium tells us “College admissions staff members consider school profiles essential to the admissions process because these provide the necessary context to interpret and understand the academic accomplishments of individual students. A carefully constructed transcript is made much more powerful and meaningful by an equally informative school profile.” This statement would be true for any high school regardless of the type of transcript they produce and send to colleges and universities. In fact, according to Competency Works, “Admissions offices have told us that the worst mistake schools tend to make is neglecting the school profile—it’s essential to understanding the transcript and the applicant.” In Much Ado…, Stephen Abbott goes on to encourage schools to invest time and resources into creating and refining the school profile as the role it plays is so important.
Proficiency-based transcripts can offer more
Since a proficiency-based transcript offers real-time, evidence-based information about a student, it can actually offer more insight, and more valuable insight into that student. As stated by the New England Secondary School Consortium, “Proficiency-based transcripts and school profiles demonstrate students’ individualized pathways toward achievement. They can, along with other admissions materials, offer a rich sense of how students are doing as responsible, involved citizens. ... These insights correspond with emerging convictions among college admissions officers that character needs to matter more in the college admission process... Because proficiency-based transcripts capture more of the whole student and their range of interests and experiences, they help put a bit more heart and soul into the college admissions process.”
The New England Board of Higher Education writes, “Admissions leaders were particularly enthusiastic about the inclusion of habits of work and cross-curricular knowledge and skills on the proficiency-based transcript (Figure 2). Information regarding students’ habits of work and cross-curricular knowledge and skills are increasingly of interest to selective admissions offices as they seek to admit students who will contribute fully to campus life.”
And Stephen Abbott tells us, “The rigor and quality of the school’s academic program, and understanding how an applicant performed in that system, matters much more than class rank or artificial “rank-enhancers” such as weighted grades (in fact, many admissions offices will “unweight” weighted grades). An admissions office wants to know that applicants have been intellectually challenged, that the school’s courses and learning experiences are rigorous, that the applicant performed well in those courses, and that the applicant is prepared to thrive academically in their program. The irony: If well designed, a mastery-based transcript will actually satisfy all of these admissions needs far better than so-called ‘traditional’ transcripts.” (Abbott)
While at JumpRope we have a stake in making proficiency-based transcripts sound appealing to our external audience and in actually making them work for the schools and students we serve, it’s clear the research truly supports our mission in these regards. Proficiency-based transcripts, like all their predecessors, offer a unique view of each student. Also like every other transcript, they are most easily and effectively interpreted if they are accompanied by a robust school profile. Unlike a traditional transcript, a proficiency-based transcript offers the kind of real-time academic, evidence-based data as well as information about habits of work and cross-curricular knowledge and skills their predecessors do not offer. Proficiency-based transcripts offer more refined and more useful information for college admissions officers.
Works Cited and Recommended:
Abbott, Stephen (8.15.17) “Much Ado About Mastery-Based Transcripts: What Schools Need to Know and What They Can Do”, Competency Works
Frost, Dale, “Making Learning Personal: Eliminate Gaps and Ensure Mastery through Proficiency-Based Diplomas”, iNACOL
“How Do Colleges View Proficiency-Based Transcripts?”, New England Secondary School Consortium
“How Selective Colleges and Universities Evaluate Proficiency-Based High School Transcripts: Insights for Students and Schools”, New England Board of Higher Education