Three Reasons Non-Traditional Grading Won’t Negatively Affect College Acceptance


Matthew Shea from the RSU2 school district in Maine shares 3 reasons a transcript from a competency-based school won't negatively affect college acceptance. Guest post by Matthew Shea, Coordinator of Student Achievement at RSU2 in Maine, and co-host of Personalized Learning with Matt and Courtney, a new and noteworthy iTunes podcast

As districts shift to competency-based learning, one issue that always concerns parents is college acceptance. How will colleges know what my child has learned if there aren’t any 0-100 grades or A-F grades?

A recent article from Maine Public Radio highlighted these concerns, and deservedly so. Ensuring students are college-ready is an important part of their K-12 experience. However, parents shouldn’t panic.

Three reasons a transcript from a competency-based school will work just fine for the college admissions process:

  1. Preparedness for the rigors of college: In a competency-based school, the learners will actually be better prepared for their future. One of the reasons schools turn to a competency-based system in the first place is because learners are providing evidence towards learning goals on an ongoing basis, only moving to the next target/competency when they have provided enough evidence. Gone are the days when students could get a 72 and slide by. In a competency-based system, they have to actually learn what they are supposed to learn!
  2. Complete student learning record: Colleges will have a better overall picture of the learner at the competency-based school as the grades will reflect their academic record. They will also have an idea of their other skills (in Maine, we call them Guiding Principles). The transcript can provide these very important facets of a learner that have previously been ignored in traditional academic grades.
  3. Communication between K-12 and higher education: Districts will need to let colleges know that whatever their transcript looks like, there is a good explanation of what it means. This is usually attached to the school profile that goes along with the transcripts, but in the beginning of a school’s transition to a competency-based system, schools should be getting in touch with every school to which a student applies to let them know they have a different system, and explain it to them. When my district started the transition a number of years ago, this is exactly what we did. In addition, showing that profile to parents can alleviate some concerns they may have, and parents can learn how to advocate for themselves and their children.

I always come back to something the admissions directors of a university in New England told me around eight years ago. They told me they get hundreds of different looking transcripts from around the world, including ones with smiley faces and frowny faces. It is the colleges’ job to attract the students that will be representing their school, and a competency-based transcript won’t hold them back from finding those students. I tell that story every time parents question the transcript process, and including those parents in the process is never a bad thing.

Competency-based schools and non-traditional grading systems aren’t unique; however, they do require some explaining for people who are not familiar with the process. My advice to schools: you can never communicate too much with people about your system, be it students, parents, colleges, or the community. Bring them in as much as you can. You won’t regret it.

Learn more about competency-based education and how it flips the traditional school model to put students at the center.