On Nueva and the Mastery Transcript

Mike Peller
Jun 10, 2018 · 4 min read

We are thrilled that we are on our way, in partnership with the MTC, to develop — as one of the few schools selected — the first working prototype of a Mastery Transcript. What has allowed us, as just a five-year-old upper school division, to be at this point? Since the inception of Nueva’s upper school in 2013, we established both an assessment system and a school culture that has prepared us to lead in the mastery transcript revolution. Culturally, we embrace — due to our commitment to design thinking — a culture of yes; we quickly became a founding member of MTC, seeing right away how its mission dovetails perfectly with ours. And, as a lab school, we believe it is our responsibility to develop and share work that could — and in this case, will — change the educational landscape. In terms of our assessment system, when we launched an upper school expansion five years ago, we philosophically built off of a 46-year history of narrative-only assessment in our PK-8 program, being intentional to create a mission-driven assessment system that embraces growth mindset and that recognizes all students as unique.

So what have we done?

When we launched the upper school five years ago:

  • Built a competency-based assessment (CBA) system that evaluates student mastery in three categories: content; skills and practices, and; habits of learning
  • Lead on-boarding professional development for new teachers to understand the CBA system
  • Lead ongoing professional development for current teachers to revise and improve both the standards, the practice of assessing them, and the architecture of developing a course
  • Give students feedback in three forms: narratives, rubrics on the clearly defined competencies (which are shared before the course starts), and a letter grade. (I feel great about all but the grade, as it feels

In the last 15 months:

  • Attended the inaugural MTC meeting at NAIS
  • Attended the MTC site director meeting six months later
  • Led numerous informational presentations on the MTC to all of the school’s constituents
  • Presented at conferences on the importance of competency-based learning, and the positive alignment with a mastery transcript
  • Formed a working group to evaluate and edit the Nueva competencies, asking the questions: (1) What do they say about the school’s values? (Do they reflect the school’s values?) (2) Are they measurable? (3) Do they transfer across disciplines? (4) Are they relevant for the needs of the 21st century?
  • Partnered with Global Online Academy to lead selected faculty through a 2-day design sprint in which used our competencies to backwards-design courses.
  • Drafted specific evaluation criteria for each of our mastery credits, criteria that ideally will be used by an accreditation team that would grant mastery credits down the road.
  • Discussed the MT prototype group and process with our rising 12th graders, inviting them to apply for the opportunity to co-create their transcript.

The Mastery Transcript is much more than a transcript. We believe the focus on reimagining the high school transcript has given schools courage to look at more than just the system used to report on student learning, aka the transcript. By reimagining the high school transcript, schools — and Nueva in particular — have been encouraged to envision what PK-12 learning might look like if schools assessed what matters and assessed without bias. First, in terms of assessing what matters, the research on the importance of non-cognitive skills is becoming ubiquitous. A mastery transcript allows schools to truly embrace assessment practices that matter, 21st century skills that “accommodate the full range of value outcomes (and not just cognitive/academic achievement narrowly defined and narrowly measured)” as Bialik, Martin, Mayo and Trilling write in Evolving Assessments for a 21st Century Education (p7). If we want our learners to have the intra- and interpersonal skills to navigate, negotiate, and solve relevant and pressing problems — and we do — then we certainly must teach, assess and report on these skills, which is precisely what a mastery transcript allows schools to do. Second, in terms of assessing without bias, we know that students’ grades are influenced by teacher bias. And since students’ sense of self-worth is wrapped into their grades, we believe that teacher bias — explicit and implicit — is impacting how students’ see themselves. For example, the same paper graded by Teacher A often will not correspond with the grade Teacher B might have given. From teacher to teacher there is no validity in the grading practice. The Mastery Transcript Consortium has provided a solution to this by removing the teacher from giving grades. The teacher’s role is to do precisely what educational theorist David Ausebel wrote in 1968: determine what each individual student needs and then appropriately differentiate instruction; sit beside each child, encouragingly and with care, and provide the precise experience that will catalyze the learning for that child.

This is an exciting to be an educator.

Below you can see what Nueva faculty identified as pains and gains of teaching and learning in a competency system with a mastery transcript.

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