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What if schools did away with transcripts?

What if schools did away with transcripts?

I’m not sure how much useful data we get from transcripts. For example, I received an A in my high school chemistry class, but that’s about the only thing I remember from it. I don’t know anything about chemistry. I got an A because I followed directions. I understood what the teacher wanted me to do, and I did it.

That’s really all a grade is: a measure of the extent to which the student follows directions.

And there’s something to be said for that. If I’m hiring someone and I see that she earned all A’s in high school, I can be confident that she’ll probably show up for work on time and effectively blend in to the workplace culture. That’s important.

But it’s not nearly enough. If I’m hiring someone, what I really want to know is whether or not they’re going to add value to the organization. If all they can do is follow directions and blend in . . . well, there are plenty of people who can do that. How are you going to change the organization for the better? What possibilities can you show us that we never knew existed?

Don’t show me your transcript. Show me your resume. Show me what you’ve done. Show me that you know how to take a risk, overcome your fear, make something, add value.

* * *

BORING = Algebra II   A+

BETTER = Student Body Treasurer

BEST = Organized a fundraiser that raised $7,000 to make prom free for kids who otherwise couldn’t afford to go.

* * *

BORING = American Government   A+

BETTER = Intern for the Yes on Initiative 653! campaign

BEST = Registered more than 2,000 new voters in time for the mid-term Congressional elections.

* * *

BORING = Physical Education   A+

BETTER = “My hobbies include skateboarding”

BEST = “Took third place in a regional skateboarding competition, even though it my first one and I was ridiculously scared to do it.”

* * *

You get the idea.

If high schools could eliminate transcripts and replace them with resumes, colleges would have a better of idea of which applicants are serious about having an impact on the world. If high schools were resources rather than factories, college would get to see which kids know how to take advantage of the opportunities available to them, and which kids prefer to be told what to do.

And more importantly, high school kids could redirect the energy they now spend grade grubbing towards activities that make their heart sing.

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16 thoughts on “What if schools did away with transcripts?

  1. I been working on a living learning portfolio that would be both a resume, but also a more holistic view of your life.

    Because it is great that someone can register voters or did a fundraiser, but that is not always the type of work that everyone can do, and really it is exactly what happens now in high school.

    In my own experience the students in my school who had the time to do projects like that had the time because they did not need to work after school or had parents who had the time to arrange or plan these events…

    So they got the scholarship, and the praise….but looking back they did not do those because of some passion to change the world or make it better, they did them for their “resumes. It becomes just another thing to add so you stand out over others in a world that pushes the idea that you must be better or best others, or you will not succeed.

    So I love your idea, but it is still about measuring others against yourself.

    I like stories more than lines on piece of paper. My resume never says a lot about me other then I have worked a lot.

    I would rather tell you how happy I get when I cook a good meal for people and I get to see the joy on their face from eating and sharing my passion with cooking with them.

    I would rather tell you how in high school, I was in 17 plays and directed 2 not because that is a lot, but because it was my life and my passion and I made sure I had every chance I could to do my passion.

    I would rather tell you, how my friend and I made a short film, and saw no outside festival that was set up solely for students film makers by student filmmakers and so we made one. I would love to tell you how it lasted 5 years, well past our graduation from high school and that many of the students that submitted films have gone on to be feature film makers and budding stars. But not because it would look good on my resume, but because it the only thing i wanted to spend my time doing and I did.

    I think getting rid of transcripts is a great first start, just like grades, but we also need to encourage and support a culture of students finding their passions and taking risks and enjoying life…not because it will look good to a future employer but because life is better that way…

    By the way, when can I set up a interview 🙂 ?


    Posted by dloitz | August 31, 2011, 11:44 am
  2. What if schools did away with transcripts? It’s definitely a “what if” question, but. . . I would like to see more students creating their own portfolios to highlight their accomplishments. I think blogs are ideal for doing this. In a “portfolio blog” a student can include writing samples, art, photos of all kinds, videos . . . the possibilities are endless. I think this kind of presentation, created over years of learning, could show much more than a letter grade on a transcript or a summary phrase on a resume. In a few short minutes of browsing a portfolio blog, you could have a much more accurate idea of a person’s strengths and abilities. I hope we see more of this in the future.

    Posted by Tatiana | August 31, 2011, 1:39 pm
  3. WIthout transcripts how on earth would we quantify students’ relative values as commodities produced for the job market?

    Posted by Brent Snavely | August 31, 2011, 1:44 pm
  4. I love your examples and I hear what David is saying, but if students sincerely believe it is all about what you have done, it will become more and more genuine and in doing so, as Clark Aldrich says, they will “Learn to be; learn to do; learn to know”.

    If you look at my transcripts, I was a superb follower and it has not prepared me well to overcome fears, take risks, and make something..

    Posted by timmcclung | August 31, 2011, 3:14 pm
    • I think your right Tim, It is a great first step and great message to promote. I hope more people like Steve and you are the ones promoting it… But I am not interest in just what people do, I am more interested in why they do it.

      If we practiced asking students and adults, “Why are you doing that?” without some preconditioned answers in your head… then a lot could start changing. I think being transparent and reflective about why we do things is a good step toward self-knowledge and personal growth.

      But I think Steve’s idea is in tune, with what I say.

      Posted by dloitz | August 31, 2011, 3:27 pm
  5. “Grading, in a curious way, exemplifies our deepest convictions about excellence and authority, and specifically about the right of those with authority to define what constitutes excellence. If we crowdsource grading, we are suggesting that young people without credentials are fit to judge quality and value. Welcome to the Internet, where everyone’s a critic and anyone can express a view about the new iPhone, restaurant, or quarterback. That democratizing of who can pass judgment is digital thinking. As I found out, it is quite unsettling to people stuck in top-down models of formal education and authority.”

    From this morning’s Chronicle:

    Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age
    By Cathy N. Davidson

    Just to say great minds think alike Steve!

    You’ll like this whole post on using attentional “differences” to build capacity in groups…


    Posted by Kirsten | August 31, 2011, 4:32 pm
  6. Love all these thoughts, thanks for engaging in the conversation.

    We’re pondering this question at PSCS, and although we’re in the very early stages of the discussion, there is a rich set of possibilities here. Maybe a “transcript” has one section that lists real, specific achievements that the student is proud of. Then, another section could list the specific academic competencies the student has acquired. This is much, much different from a class title and a grade. As I wrote in the original post, I got an A in chemistry, but I couldn’t name a single competency I acquired during the class.

    The thing that might help this break through could be all the grumbling I’m hearing from university professors, who seem dissatisfied with the quality of thinking happening in their undergraduate courses. Universities are suffering because teenagers are spending their high school years gaming the system—i.e. filling a transcript with a bunch of letters and numbers—instead of actually learning.

    And, David: email me any time and let’s connect!

    Posted by stevemiranda | September 1, 2011, 12:49 am
  7. I like the steps you are taking…

    Though I feel little sympathy for College professors, I would rather do away with the outdated model of most undergrad programs, which often are taught by people with no teaching skill and often not even interpersonal skills. I had more bad teachers in my one year of state school then I did in high school. Now there are lots of great college teachers too, but I truly think we need to reform College before we tackle high school… Exactly since almost every school website I go on, talks about preparing students for College. College has monopoly on high school kids, there is no current acceptable opinion if you want to “be successful”… in the eyes of the current paradigm. While I think Success needs to be redefine to include more path of learning then traditional college… if we are going to promote it for everyone… then we must start transformation there…

    I know we have some college professors on here…what you think? I am off base?…


    Posted by dloitz | September 1, 2011, 1:40 am
    • David

      As you know, I am not a college prof or a teacher. During my recent work on an MA in Liberal Studies, I came to realize that a silver bullet does not exist for any ‘problems’ except those having to do with hard-sciences. Any ‘problems’ pertaining to education are interwoven with social issues, politics, economics and the like — in short, changing “education” requires changing the very fabric of “culture”.

      The primary reason I am able to retain any hope that meaninful changes will be effected is that small nudges at the begining of a human’s life trajectory can lead to massive results much later in their lives. I am quite certain that youths, IF they are enabled, empowered, or otherwise assisted to engage in critical thinking will, in conjunction with their peers, take corrective action and straighten out what several generations of adults have screwed up. We, the adults, need to help them and simultaneously stay the heck out of their paths.

      Posted by Brent Snavely | September 3, 2011, 5:28 pm
  8. I think facebook is going a little over board making the site look like time square…but i am intrigued by this article talking about the new profile page called timeline… this is close to a living resume as one can get. at this point.. I think if done smartly, we could use this to get rid of transcripts and possibly make self-assessment more holistic…

    what do you think?


    Posted by dloitz | September 22, 2011, 6:52 pm
  9. The first step in getting rid of transcripts is getting rid of grades. The always-wonderful Alfie Kohn has this to say:

    Posted by karendanzah | May 23, 2012, 5:07 pm


  1. Pingback: What if schools did away with transcripts? | Cooperative Catalyst | - August 31, 2011

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