Correction: A previous version of this brief incorrectly stated the first class to graduate under the district's mastery-based approach would do so this year.
- Freshmen in the Connecticut town of Windsor Locks will be the first class to graduate under a mastery-based approach, which forgoes letter grades while asking students to master certain skills in each subject, according to The Hechinger Report.
- The move was controversial among parents, who fretted over how the change could disrupt students’ college chances, but test scores among high-need students in the district have improved, and more districts across the country are considering the approach.
- The Windsor Locks district was identified as a low-performing district in 2012, but since the mastery-based diploma system was initiated, all four of the district’s schools have improved.
While parents and some educators are hesitant about alternative metrics for a student’s educational success because of how colleges and universities would view their applications, postsecondary educational institutions should look at the popularity of these systems as a way to diversify their own student population. Higher ed institutions face calls to increase diversity on a variety of fronts, anxious to avoid becoming homogeneous in terms of race, ethnicity, class or place of origin. If more K-12 districts consider a student’s progress and performance through alternative lenses, it will be all the easier for colleges and universities to break outside of their own pre-determined patterns of application review. The new rubrics should be viewed as opportunities to leverage, as opposed to an unwanted upending of status quo application procedures.
It is also notable that the increase in prominence and popularity of these alternative systems of evaluation has come as the Common Core State Standards have been instituted. Many parents have bristled at the program’s uniformity and emphasis on test participation and scoring, and the alternative metrics proposed in these new programs are typically a move away from judging students by test scores or letter grades. As school districts face pressure to show results in the form of higher test scores, the internal evaluation systems districts are turning to seem to continuously broaden the scope of how students should be judged. It will be interesting to see if these programs grow in popularity as the Every Student Succeeds Act is administered and states presumably receive more agency in accountability.