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.”


Tessera teacher playbook cover

Pleased to be able to share a link to a 26 page sample of this new 175 page Social and Emotional Learning (and Noncognitive Skills) Teacher Playbook.   I am one of four “lead developers,” or co-authors on the playbook, along with award winning Salt Lake City teacher Leigh VandenAkker, research scientist Jeremy Burrus, Ph.D., and doctoral candidate Dana Murano.   City High School (Tucson, AZ) Director of College Access Eve Rifkin also contributed to the playbook.

The Playbook is designed for teaching and learning skills and habits of teamwork, resilience, and grit in both middle and high school classrooms; dozens of lessons and classroom activities are provided for each competency.

The sample includes some overview and introductory materials, as well as several sample lessons from the teamwork unit.  The free sample is easily available for download (after a quick registration) here.

The full playbook is, I’m afraid, available only to educators in schools, districts, and organizations using the Tessera SEL system, at the center of which is an innovative noncognitive skill and SEL competency assessment instrument providing schools, teachers, and students reports on student proficiency in six constructs, including teamwork, resilience and grit.  I’ve been advising the Tessera system in its development over the past 17 months.  For more, click here. 


Just published over at NAIS, this 85 page e-book I co-authored with the excellent NAIS Senior Director of Academic Research  Amada Torres provides guidance to school administrators for best utilizing the HSSSE, the High School Survey of Student Engagement, and the new MGSSE, the Middle Grades Survey of Student Engagement, for school improvement.

The Table of Contents includes:

While HSSSE used to be widely available through Indiana University for high schools nationally, recently its availability has been limited to only NAIS member schools, and the e-book, published by NAIS, is accordingly only available to NAIS member schools.

A new tradition for 2016, an opportunity to look back and reflect, take some pleasure in positive experiences of the year concluding, and pass along some recommendations to others who appreciate such things: sharing my top ten books, tv , meals and hikes. 

Books (Non-Education)

This is a list of of my favorite “non-professional” titles read in 2016, drawn from a list of something over 80 books read in total (every May or June I publish a post of the top ten summer reading recommendations for educators, and it makes no sense to duplicate that here.)

The top three on the list below do stand apart as the very best: McEwan’s Nutshell, so short as to be effectively a novella, I adored and couldn’t put down, amusing and sexy and bizarre as it is.  Wulf’s biography of Alexander von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature, told the story of an early nineteenth century polymath who first deeply recognized and appreciated the interconnectedness of all living creatures, and is gorgeously written (the accompanying title by the same author isn’t quite as great but still very worthy.)  And the third title is the the story of Quanah Parker, who has to be among the very most fascinating creatures ever to exist on the North American continent, and whose story deserves to be as well known and as deeply considered as that of almost any other American.

  1. Nutshell (McEwan)
  2. Invention of Nature  and Chasing Venus (Wulf)
  3. Empire of the Summer Moon (Gwynn)
  4. When Breath Becomes Air (Kalanithi)
  5. Eligible (Sittenfeld) and Emma (Smith)
  6. Modern Romance (Straub)
  7. Underground Airlines (Winters)  
  8. Underground Railroad (Whitehead)
  9. The Wright Brothers (McCullogh)
  10. TV: The Book (Sepinwall and Zollar-Seitz)

Honorable Mention:  Night Life (Taylor), The Girls (Cline), American Heiress (Toobin), Sapiens (Harrari), The Terranauts (Boyle), Hero of France (Furst), Commonwealth (Patchett), The Innovators (Isaacson).

TV (more…)

Reposted from original posting for client company ProExam.

Most readers are probably familiar with the fascinating curve ball the 2015 Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as ESSA, has thrown into state-level mandated accountability indices. In addition to a set of “substantially weighted” academic indicators, states are to add to them “at least one additional indicator of school quality or student success beyond test scores.”

Although we are presently in a moment of political uncertainty with regards to the future of all federal policy and legislation, there is some reason to think ESSA will stand as is: it was passed, after all, in legislation by the Republican-controlled House and Senate before being signed by a Democratic President.

Let us first applaud the inclusion of this additional indicator, what the media is usually labeling (though not entirely accurately) the “Non-academic Indicator” (NAI) or “Non-academic Factor” (NAF) to the mix. This is great news: we know today more than ever before how important it is to broaden our gauges of educational effectiveness.

Consider the hugely interesting finding from a 2016 NBER study (C. Kirabo Jackson), which is summarized in a recent excellent report from the Hamilton Project, “Seven Facts on Noncognitive Skills”:

When considering only the effect of a teacher on students’ test scores, Jackson finds that higher-quality teachers provide a small boost of 0.14 percentage points to high school graduation rates.

When Jackson considers the effect of teachers on both test scores and noncognitive skill factors, their effect on noncognitive skills is shown to matter more, with higher-quality teachers raising high school graduation rates by 0.74 percentage points.

Moreover, teachers who are adept at raising test scores and teachers who excel at instilling noncognitive skills are often not the same people.

In other words, if and when we incent, recognize, and reward those teachers who successfully raise test scores, and we don’t do the same for those teachers who enhance noncognitive skills, we have the potential unintended consequence of actually depressing high school graduation rates—by driving away or changing the practices of the very teachers having the most positive impact on graduation.

It’s been about a year since ESSA was made law, and in that time much attention has been directed to the new non-academic factors requirement, with some wide debate about which particular additional factor(s) should be selected for inclusion in the state level accountability index. There have been multiple recent studies and presentations, including:

When reviewing these reports, four key themes emerge:

  1. Emphasis on use of multiple NAF data sources
  2. Debate over the pros and cons of the use of SEL measurement
  3. Frontrunner status for chronic absenteeism
  4. Importance of support for educators’ effective use of NAF data and for accompanying evidence-based interventions

Let’s look at each in turn.


Happy to have had this booklet/bundle published today at Getting Smart; it includes a series of recent posts I wrote on the subject as well as additional pieces serving as an introduction and a conclusion to the booklet.

Enjoy, and feel free to contact me to discuss or for more information. Screen-Shot-2016-08-17-at-10.06.14-PM-907x1024

KVtl_fK_Pleased to have had my first Education Week Commentary published late last month, We Should Measure Students’ NonCognitive Skills, and to learn that it was the second most popular article or opinion piece on its website last week.   Below is the “teaser” first few paragraphs, but you can then click through to read the rest at Edweek. 

When a 9th grader in Salt Lake City—let’s call him Arnoldo—refused to do any work in his English class, his teachers weren’t finding a way to connect with him. The school’s social-emotional-learning teacher gave him an assessment of his noncognitive skills and saw he was struggling in resiliency and social awareness. She was able to support Arnoldo with strategies to improve those skills, such as setting small goals and monitoring progress. Arnoldo’s grades and attendance improved, and he began to connect with peers through school activities. Rather than approaching the problem as an academic one, Arnoldo’s teachers focused on the social-emotional skills he needed to be successful.

Recent psychological research has shown the importance of social-emotional learning for student success in the classroom and in life, and many school districts are exploring how to teach and measure noncognitive skills. The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, requires that each state include at least one nonacademic indicator in its school evaluation measures.

Read more:  Education Week, “We Should Measure Students’ Noncognitive Skills.”