Book Review: Reinventing Crediting for CBE

Mortar boards in the air at a graduation
Mortar boards in the air at a graduation

A transcript, at its best, can represent a learner as well as their journey. Minimally, it’s a single page with a single purpose: to get a diploma. Somewhere in the middle, a transcript can read as a document designed for informing the decisions made by college registrars.

For almost 20 years, I have been creating protocols and designing competency-based transcripts. My personal work experience has also involved districts cited in the case studies in this book, which certainly grabbed my attention. My personal hopes and beliefs for a transcript would not only be for them to be an adequate representation of a learner but that a learner would have some influence in what data is presented and the ability to highlight significant learning.

Reinventing Crediting book cover“Reinventing Crediting for Competency Based Education” by Jonathan E. Martin begins by exploring why the educational crediting system needs to change, providing examples on how to lead this and suggestions for the next steps. Competency-Based Education, or CBE, supports students advancing in their learning based on their ability to master a skill or competency, not by seat time. This learning model is personalized to meet varied learning abilities and often leads to more impactful student outcomes. The author opens by describing Competency Based Systems and corresponding current crediting systems, the challenges and the progressive attempts to improve the process. Martin argues the impact this transformation could have on the educational system, both for K-12 and higher ed, in terms of instruction and learning.

Selected case studies exemplify transformation for systems in varying levels, locations, and sizes, showing transformational shifts and how to get started. These examples vary in level of implementation and cite notable American CBE systems such as Chugach School District in Alaska and Lindsay School District in California as well as high schools such as Nueva School in the Bay Area, and two private boarding schools, Christchurch School in Virginia and Putney School in Vermont.

The studies include global examples, such as New Zealand and the School Year Abroad (SYA) Program, which highlights Spain, France, Italy, and China. Highlighting the transformational work that SYA did in cooperation with Global Online Academy is an invitation beyond to moderate improvement, to rethink the why and how of school, including how this can be more learner-centered, to take advantage of the flexibility of the SYA structure. While the SYA structure would not be a real possibility for many schools in the U.S., Martin also acknowledges that there is no one set path for any system, and he invites readers to “take the insights that are most pertinent to their circumstances and aspirations.”

Martin’s plan for systemic transformation is common to those that have been shared in many other CBE books-as early as Delivering on the Promise, and as current as Competency-Based Education: A New Architecture for K-12 Schooling. However, the format of the planning chapter provides readers with opportunities to make connections to the case studies previously shared and to personalize their own approach.

If you have been part of a change in education, the themes provided will sound familiar but the ones discussed toward the end of the book are particularly aligned to transformation to CBE. A popular one addresses communication with parents, who often have concerns about higher education systems and the impact this change can have on their children. Other themes are whether this level of change can still be quantified for sorting and ranking (merit scholarships), or whether the mastery threshold of designated competencies will be set high enough.

“Reinventing Crediting for Competency-Based Education” offers tools for educational leaders who are changing the way we report Competency-Based Learning, but it is also a strong tool of self-examination for any learning organization that is reflecting on their grading and reporting process. The Mastery Transcript Consortium, described in the third chapter, provides a network of support to provide, “authentic, interdisciplinary, apprenticeship-type learning” and collaboration between orgnizations and educational leaders in order to leverage this work on a national scale.

Martin helps clarify the process by examining past driving factors of the Carnegie system that influenced the design of the current transcript structure. This could be done in alignment with new drivers for a better communication tool of what students know, what they are able to do, and what they have the potential to do. Martin provides support for leaders to communicate and begin a shift in the way we record and report learning.

This book could also be instrumental for a more traditional educational organization considering an extended transcript. A second page to the transcript is a way to examine and highlight student’s strengths not often on a transcript, but are of growing interest to colleges, employers and future career path opportunities.

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Rebecca Midles

Rebecca Midles is the Vice President of Learning Design at Getting Smart and is an innovator in competency education and personalized learning with over twenty years of experience as teacher, administrator, board member, consultant and parent.

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1 Comment

Brandon Dorman

Have been working with Jonathan now for years and you won't find a more thoughtful leader always trying to push himself and others. Thanks for the great review! see also IMS Global's credentialing efforts -

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