Don’t know how many readers are already aware of the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), but probably a pretty high proportion: it has recently received a fair amount of media attention, including in Insider Higher Ed, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Washington Post.  My friend and consulting colleague Grant Lichtman has written on it several times as well, including here.  The E.E. Ford Foundation, headed by another friend and colleague of mine John Gulla, recently awarded the MTC its largest-ever donation, of two million dollars

I’m a fan, and feel privileged and grateful for having had the opportunity to attend and participate in the MTC inaugural meeting in Cleveland in April 2016 and the NAIS launch meeting in Atlanta in March, 2017.  I’ve also been, in a small way, advising the MTC in its preparation of sample rubrics for establishing mastery and, this summer, in developing sample student portfolios.

 The journal and website Education Next recently published a sharply framed critique of the MTC, entitled “Fancy Private Schools Want to Abandon High School Transcripts and Grades,” by Chester Finn, President Emeritus of the Fordham Institute, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and longstanding conservative commentator on education. 

After I pointed out on Twitter that as much as I appreciated the value of debate, and thought the piece added some important perspective to the topic, I believe the piece was plagued by error, mis-interpretation, and misunderstanding (at least seven such errors, I wrote).  Having been asked to itemize them, I’ve prepared the following, citing several sections of the Finn piece and then offering my reaction.   My responses are arranged only in the order the items they respond to appear in the Finn piece, and not by any order of importance or priority. 

“A founding group of one hundred of them—dubbing itself the Mastery Transcript Consortium—has set out to eliminate the high-school transcript and the pupil grades that go onto it, seeking instead to press colleges (and presumably employers and graduate schools) to evaluate their applicants holistically, basing those judgments on subjective reviews of the skills and competencies that individual pupils are said to have acquired during high school.”

  1. “Holistically?”   That  is simply not the correct word here; the transcript clearly breaks down analytically each skill or competency and asks teachers to assess them individually, not holistically.   Holistically might be when schools write a single narrative summarizing a student’s overall quality as an applicant, not where it reports with supporting evidence on mastery in a set of distinct competencies.
  2. “Subjective.”  True in the sense that judgment of student work generally is subjective, but not significant in that this is the norm in the evaluation of students: there is nothing distinctive in the MTC anticipated practice.  Because the MTC will support schools in the use of carefully developed and practiced rubrics, and to work to strengthen inter-rater reliability, the resulting awarding of credits and determination of mastery will in the end be less subjective than most current grading practice.
  3. “Said to have acquired.”  The MTC will entail “judgments” being accompanied by evidence, easily available to college admission evaluators, as evidence for the “judgment,” rather than relying exclusively on letter grade “judgments” as is currently the case.   In practice it is quite the opposite of “said to have acquired;” it rather could be better characterized as “demonstrated by evidence as having acquired.”