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MASTERY TRANSCRIPT CONSORTIUM: Designing a New Pathway Through High School
by Tim Bazemore, Head of School
One of our two strategic plan goals is to be an education laboratory, in which our teachers are inspired to do their best work and to pursue new ways of teaching and learning that benefit their students. In an ed lab environment, relevant research informs curriculum design, feedback and data guide next efforts, and student engagement and achievement are the goals. Teachers break out of silos, learn and plan together in new ways, and make learning objectives more visible to students. They share what they are learning, and seek promising ideas from colleagues at Catlin Gabel and from other schools. They are fearless in pursuing innovation in education.
In that spirit of discovery and leadership, we recently hosted a two-day workshop for schools that belong to the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), an exciting initiative we co-founded which seeks to address shortcomings in our traditional education system and in the college admission process. Seventy-five educators from 54 schools in 15 states and 6 countries met in the Miller Library to learn how to redesign high school curriculum so that students can better demonstrate their individual talents and accomplishments. The Consortium now includes over 150 independent schools – day, boarding, international, and online – and is supported by a board of directors and an advisory council that includes higher ed and public school leaders, as well as education thought leaders.
During our two days on campus, we heard from Kevin Mattingly of Teachers College, Columbia University, Denise Pope of Challenge Success at Stanford University, and Scott Looney, head of the Hawken School and founder of the MTC. Their message was consistent and representative of what I hear at almost every conference I attend and in education media in general: our education system is flawed and our students deserve better.
Ample evidence suggests that the traditional structures of academic subjects, letter grades, bell curves, student rankings, common graduation requirements, age cohorts, and timed tests undermine student achievement as much as they encourage it. Research on the brain, motivation, engagement, purpose, and achievement show that a system designed in the late 19th century to serve an industrial economy is poorly suited to serve students in the 21st century.
The need for change is clear, but what are the obstacles? At our workshop we identified several: we all were educated and achieved success in the current system – imagination and courage fail when we contemplate a different approach. Our teachers and professors are experts in this system – taking risks and making mistakes risks competency and credibility. We know how to teach to predictable metrics – even though we know those measures are flawed and biased. And admission demand and graduate outcomes in our schools are strong – which lessens the urgency to change.
The Consortium’s mission is to move beyond hand-wringing and act on behalf of our students, leveraging our independence, reputational strength, and college relationships to design a new pathway through high school. Imagine if students could earn credit on their high school transcripts not only for history or English, but for more granular essential skills and concepts such as statistical reasoning, digital literacy, structural analysis, and literature research and interpretation, as well as self-advocacy, collaboration, and cultural competency. Imagine if Catlin Gabel teachers ensured that all students “mastered” core academic areas and provided opportunities to “master” other credits that allowed each student to differentiate themselves. Imagine if they could “master” those credits through performance or demonstration in or out of class, when they were ready. Imagine if college admission officers could better know each graduate and make better decisions about the unique individuals applying.
By hosting a gathering of leading schools willing to think creatively about our system of education and hypothesize about a different model, we are fulfilling our goal of being an education laboratory. Widespread systemic change is years away, but as we begin to experiment with new ways to assess mastery of skills and concepts in our Upper School math and language departments, we are on the leading edge of a movement with tremendous potential. As we move forward, we are enlisting colleges and universities as partners to ensure that changes we make benefit our students. We are reaching out to public school partners so that this is not one more way that elite institutions expand the privilege gap. And we also are looking inward, at how mastery learning in Upper School connects effectively to teaching and learning in Preschool-Grade 8. Time will tell if we can achieve a radical redesign of education, but one thing is certain: we will learn much in the process.
Follow him on Twitter @TimBazemore.
Catlin Gabel Students Speak at TEDx YOUTH@PORTLAND
Held on November 18th at the University of Oregon’s Turnbull Center in the Pearl
CAMMIE LEE Speaker - Music Education
(Pictured top) Cammie is a senior at Catlin Gabel. She started playing the violin at the age of four, began taking piano lessons at the age of eight, and is self-taught on the ukulele. Currently, she participates in three different ensembles under the Metropolitan Youth Symphony, and serves as the co-concertmaster of her youth orchestra. Additionally, she is the co-founder of Project Prelude, a student-founded and student-run non-profit that aims to make music education more accessible to low-income students.
AMEYA OKAMOTO Speaker - Mental Health/Social Change
(Pictured second) Ameya is also a senior at Catlin Gabel and an artist who focuses on unpacking the social injustices and biased behavior that define our world. Currently, Ameya connects with families impacted by police violence and creates digital illustrations aimed towards neutralizing the negativity of outdated mugshots and images of black boys unjustly killed. Her work has been honored by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and featured in the Portland Art Museum and the Williamson Knight Gallery.
From Your Admission Team
Questions for Parents demystified
Whether the goal is to meet the reduced fee application deadline of December 14th or the final deadline after the new year, now is the time to begin thinking about the Questions for Parents component of the admission application.
Your best opportunity to help us get to know your child and your family is through your responses to these questions, so it's worth it to spend time on them. At first glance they may seem straightforward - what parents don't like to gush about their child? But finding the words to respond to your child's area for growth, why our school is a good educational setting for your child, and the ambiguous "anything else you'd like to share about your child" questions can require a little more thought. Following are some tips for making the most of these questions:
Consider the match
Make sure you've thought about why Catlin Gabel is a good match for your child. How is this academic environment conducive to your child's learning style? Would he or she do well in a day with different transitions? The match is an important aspect, and parents' understanding about the ideal academic environment for their child helps us assess the potential for success at Catlin Gabel.
When we talk about "family fit," we don't mean there is a single type of family that belongs here. Quite the opposite, in fact: Catlin Gabel draws families of all stripes from all sectors of Portland. We look for families who will embrace progressive education: inquiry-based, experiential, whole child, and educating for democracy.
Complete the Picture
To provide a complete and balanced story of your child's candidacy, please make sure your responses fill in the gaps. For example, if your child had a particularly rocky year in school, you may write about what happened as well as how you navigated that experience. Or if your child has a reserved nature, this is a good place to discuss the positive side of her personality type and how you see it playing out in our classrooms.
There is no need to use up the entire word allotment for each answer. Sometimes less is more. You don't need to respond to the question, "Is there anything else about your child you would like to share with the admission committee?" if you feel you've covered everything with your previous responses. Read the questions early in the process and give yourself some time to reflect on your answers before submitting them. They may change!