For Abbie Forbus, a teaching and learning director with KnowledgeWorks, school has always been special.
“Growing up, I always thought of school as the epicenter of the community,” said Forbus, who moved nine times and had lived in six states by the time she was 15 years old. “My hook into the community was school. It’s where I felt comfortable, where I felt like I knew who I was and what was going.”
Moving so much as a young person presented as many challenges as it did opportunities, though it wasn’t until Forbus was in high school that she realized how her education was being affected. As a freshman, a teacher asked her what she’d learned in the previous year. Despite that teacher’s best intentions, Forbus quickly learned that it couldn’t matter much what she’d already learned and what she knew. Because of the traditional instructional environment, she’d be moving with the pacing calendar, just like the rest of the class.
Which is part of why personalized, competency-based learning appealed to her so much when she got into education, and continues to make so much sense for her today.
“When I was a high school guidance counselor in a personalized learning district, we had a high-migrant population, so we had a lot of learners moving in and out of the district. I would help facilitate the transferring of their records, and they were very detailed: what the student had mastered, what they knew, what they were still working on,” said Forbus, who served in the Lindsay Unified School District as a kindergarten, first and second grade teacher, a high school counselor and the dean of culture for nearly 16 years before joining KnowledgeWorks. “The school would inevitably contact me and ask, ‘What’s their letter grade?’”
Forbus felt challenged by the question, which reflected so little of the student as a whole – just as she had when she was a teenager, trying to work from a place of strength and knowledge.
“As you do this work you realize how abstract that letter grade is,” Forbus said. While she recognizes the need to measure and assess students, and has in her work helped to craft what a transcript from a personalized, competency-based system would look like, she attests that there’s always more to learn about a learner than a letter grade.
“You need to think of the whole child, that personalized piece,” said Forbus. “My experience as a child going through that really helped open that up for me.”
A transcript from a personalized, competency-based system has the potential to be not only a truly accurate reflection of what a student knows, but also makes learning transparent to all stakeholders – including families.