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Here’s Hoping the Pandemic Admissions Alterations Stick

April 19, 2020

CNBC reporter Abigail Hess’ recent article describes how college admissions have been impacted by the coronavirus, and from my perspective the three major changes she describes should all be carried forward once this crisis passes. The three changes she highest are the introduction of pass/fail grading into many schools coping with the coronavirus; the inability of this year’s junior class to take SATs which, in turn, makes that information unavailable to admissions officers; and an emphasis on volunteerism in determining admissions.

As one who favors mastery learning over grading, values holistic assessments over standardized tests, and experiential learning over lockstep “delivery” of instruction these changes are all for the better. And should these changes stick once schools reopen, it is possible that public education will look very different.

  • Mastery Replaces “Grades”: Instead of quarterly report cards with “grades” based on comparisons with students in the same age cohort students will be continuously assessed on their progress against clear standards set in advance by their teachers. In courses with hierarchical standards (i.e. math, reading, and science) students will progress to the next level once they have demonstrated mastery of the baseline content. In other content areas, teachers would define the standard for “mastery” and provide frequent feedback to students on their progress.
  • Narrative Commentary from Teachers Replaces Standardized Test Scores: Instead of basing admissions to college on a single test administered over three hours, college admissions officers can review a prospective students’ mastery of skills and the narrative assessments provided by teachers of the student’s choice. In this way teachers would play a more integral role in determining the admissions to college and students would, therefore, see a clearer connection between their performance in classes to admissions to college.
  • Volunteerism Would Be Valued as much as Extra-Curriculars: Volunteerism can, in some instances, be seen as a decisive factor in admissions. But if it were flagged as an essential element students would commit themselves to working within their communities and within their schools. Such commitments would be self-reinforcing since anyone who HAS volunteered realizes.

Whether these changes come to pass depends on the willingness of school leaders, teachers, and parents to abandon the current definition of “normal” and replace it with a new paradigm that places a premium on individual mastery, connections with teachers, and commitment to their community. Seems like a good direction to take!

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