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Dr. Grauer's Column - The Future Of Transcripts: A Deeper Representation

High school transcripts are evolving from the traditional test score-based documents to a layered representation of the whole student, and The Grauer School is excited to be at the forefront of this monumental change.

The Future Of Transcripts: A Deeper Representation

I love musing about The Grauer School's graduates and all the fantastic paths they have taken. Ivy league schools, admission into the golf academy or fashion institute, driving around the country in a van, taking off with a world touring band, setting out as an actor in LA, finding yourself in a gap year.

Until recently, the high school transcript was the accepted, simple representation of student readiness for any or all of this. The transcript (sent to colleges) included the classic information: attendance, grades, standardized test scores, and the GPA (Grades from all courses taken in high school crunched into a single average), something we tend to live with our whole life. Our counseling office of course does all this, but is it the representation we want?

Dr. Stuart Grauer at the New York Museum of Modern Art, Creativity Lab - August 28, 2022

The Grauer School was founded and continues to evolve so as to avoid constraints and bureaucracies that tend to drive so many schools to mediocrity. One constraint that can erode the unique benefits of any school is the standardized transcript which, of course, leads so many schools and families away from what makes the student uniquely talented or valuable to their school, community and, ultimately society or profession. Some of us are nudging towards a deeper representation of who our students are, which we believe is ethical, transparent, and worthy of development in transcripts.

SAT math scores are a key aspect of admissions, though not on the transcript. These scores, like GPA, do not tend to reward many valuable and unique gifts. What’s more, they mirror and maintain racial inequity [1]. In 2020-21, of those scoring above 700, 43% are Asian and 45% are white, compared to 6% Hispanic or Latino and 1% Black. Similar gaps occur in the English sections. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, has presented research suggesting that SAT questions historically favor affluent white men. But plenty of white males also have objected to testing norms. Since the nineties, the College Board has labored (and not succeeded) in reinventing the test as a more democratic metric of academic readiness and achievement: “Even before the pandemic, we had been considering whether the positive aspects of the SAT and ACT outweigh the negatives.” Hundreds of colleges and universities stopped requiring the tests during Covid, and it is unclear if they will return to required testing in the future.  

The “A” in “SAT” first meant “aptitude,” was changed in 1994 to denote “achievement,” and today it no longer stands for anything at all. 

As with the SAT, there is a transformation of the high school transcript going on:  

More students and alternative schools are submitting portfolios of projects. The Mastery Transcript Consortium includes about 300 schools all attempting to change the high school transcript. They are including new things in addition to grades: featured work selections, and what they call “transferrable skills” such as self-direction and collaboration that Grauer families are long accustomed to.  

A great many kids are now submitting home school transcripts, many of which do not even have grades or GPAs. Many kids and counseling offices are not submitting things that used to be gospel, such as SAT or ACT scores. The Grauer School's counselor Shelley Joslin believes about 4 students of our 25 graduating seniors last year actually ended up submitting scores, and we got some of our best college admissions results in history. We find the scores we see to be interesting, but we just don’t know the value or worthiness of them at present. It seems in limbo.

As for grades, at Grauer, we think they can be important if calculated based on diverse work and thinking skills, and they can reflect mastery of important information. Plus, grades done well reflect the relationships our students are forming with mentors—we know of no more valuable success predictor.

At the same time, the Grauer School’s purpose is not reflected in simple grades. It is our core values, as we state prominently on all publications and throughout our application process, that we must reflect and reward. Shouldn’t our core values at least balance GPA as an outcome, for instance? If the achievement of our core values is our purpose, why isn’t this achievement shown on the transcript as an outcome? Well, as we’ve noted on our materials for years now: they are! 

Original very first folio edition of Shakespeare, in the colossal New York Public Library, with an unusual use of the word “Grauer” in the dedication. (Photo, S. Grauer) - August 29, 2022

We show core values “evals" totals on our report cards and also on transcripts. College admissions officers can view each of the core values achievements of our students. These “evals” are listed on the transcript for each year and also crunched over their four years of high school: resourcefulness, compassion, intellectual curiosity, perseverance, self-advocacy and accountability are all on view. We know an average number is simplistic whether for academic grades or for “evals.” And yet, we also know, from social science research that we can take evaluative ratings over time and crunch them into reliable, quantitative data, just as well as we can crunch data on other areas such as English literature and algebra. This is reliable, rich data.

Who is to say which is more valuable and worthy on a transcript, academic grades or core values percentages?  

Two facts:

  1. We need to reflect rich outcomes for kids not submitting all the old, standard stuff. That’s the future.
  2. Admissions officers will often average less than 15 minutes to assess your entire application.

From this we could draw two, opposite conclusions:

  1. We need to give colleges quick and simplistic, but perhaps incomplete information. Or,
  2. We need to take better charge of what college admissions officers do with those precious 15 minutes—we need to take better charge of what we send to them. 

At Grauer, we draw the second conclusion for a simple reason: it is the right thing to do. A few years ago, our counselor Shelley added an open field on our transcript called, “Senior Graduation Defense” and we type in the topic/major of each graduate so the school can consider the student’s main focus and specialty. This adds depth and it is a talking point for interviews. And, of course, this is a point of pride and a signature of our school as we distinguish ourselves increasingly before admissions offices worldwide. It is who we are.

Naturally, Grauer provides all grades and test scores, and anything a college asks. Plus, Grauer students get references from teachers who really know them, which adds depth and authenticity any college admissions officer can sense even in 15 minutes.

Importantly, Grauer juniors and seniors invest deeply into crafting the classic narrative known as the “college application essay.” (The traditional college application essay usually requires an open-ended personal statement in response to broad or general prompts.) These statements do more than pitch to admissions officers: they help each student clarify their identify, purposes and visions.

Grauer 7th grade students Catalina and Sasha with the huge squash grown in the Grauer Garden that they won in a guessing-game contest - August 24, 2022

One main point here is that ultimately, as the standardized test declines in its credence, richness, and power, there will be more things to add to the post-pandemic transcript. Colleges already are talking a lot about getting a quick shot of the graduate’s journey: “A layered representation.” “We use a holistic approach to select those with strong ethical character who align with our institutional values,” the University of Rochester School of Engineering explains it. These are concepts coming from the field. Moreover, “layered” outcomes are just as valuable as college placement for our students, and we honor those.

Let’s start with the end in mind, and the end is not the traditional transcript: it is doing whatever it takes to honor the unique gifts of our students and teachers… this is what makes our school valuable. If all that gets them into the “right” college, at least we will know they got into that college for intrinsic purposes. For too long, students have been taking courses that they or their parents think dyed-in-the-wool college admissions officers want to see them take. The Grauer School wants those days behind us:

Youth is too precious to waste on the old.

[1] https://www.brookings.edu

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Photos for Dr. Grauer's Column

Dr. Stuart Grauer at the New York Museum of Modern Art, Creativity Lab - August 28, 2022

Original very first folio edition of Shakespeare, in the colossal New York Public Library, with an unusual use of the word “Grauer” in the dedication. (Photo, S. Grauer) - August 29, 2022

Grauer 7th grade students Catalina and Sasha with the huge squash grown in the Grauer Garden that they won in a guessing-game contest - August 24, 2022

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by Dr. Stuart Grauer

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There you will find colorful stories for the encouragement, inspiration, and courage needed by educators and parents. Fearless Teaching is not a fix-it book—it is more a way of seeing the world and the school so that you can stay in your work and focus on what matters most to you.

"Grauer’s writing reminds us that Great Teaching, singular, rare, unusual, is something that should be sought after and found. Thank you.”
Richard Dreyfuss, Actor, Oxford scholar, founder of The Dreyfuss Initiative

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