Ben Rein

Changing the Game of School - The Mastery Transcript Consortium


During his 15-minute talk, Ben discusses and explains the following:

  • The Mastery Transcript in detail, its objectives and philosophy;
  • How it steers clear of grades and gets closer the mission and vision of each school;
  • How students actively participate in its elaboration, tracking their progress over years;
  • How interdisciplinary competencies represent the unique profile of each student, academic and extra-curricular;
  • Is beyond academics and allows for who they are and what they’re trying to communicate to the world

Rein's Definition of "Prepared Adult": Someone who knows and celebrates their strengths and interests as both valuable and valued. Someone who can appreciate the strengths and abilities of others without judgment. Someone who cares deeply about contributing to society beyond simply making a mark for themselves.


Ben Rein works closely with the education community—both active members as well as those who are interested in the work we are doing, to further our mission and vision. Rein has spent the prior 25 years as an independent school teacher and administrator. His independent school journey has taken him from a history teaching internship at the Culver Academies, through teaching stints at Saddle River Day School and the Haverford School in Philadelphia. Rein spent 14 years at Haverford, moving from the classroom to administration, before leaving to become Upper School Head at the Collegiate School in Richmond, VA. He left Richmond to assume the duties of Headmaster at the University School in Cleveland, OH, before moving to pursue the work with the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC). Rein earned his BA in American Studies from Amherst College, and his MS Ed in School Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.


What I'm hoping to do today is share a bit about really what's a practical solution to the idealistic, sort of philosophically idealistic presentations that are in conversations that. Are taking place today by sharing with you something that that we've constructed that we think can help change the game of school. It's important to know that our are we have come at this question of offering a solution to the way that we track student growth in a framework that I think. Aligns very closely with much of what we've heard today. And I think what we will continue to hear today. Having spent 24 years in schools running, running and sort of teaching in schools, to be fair, not Montessori based.

I came away with a real conclusion that what we were doing wasn't really making a lot of sense and is and that we should be much more aligned with much of the conversations that are taking place today as we think about how we work with our students. Because the truth is, and someone alluded to this in one of the earlier conversations. For all of the rhetoric about school change and 21st century learning and an approach to a more holistic vision things aren't that different if a picture is worth 1000 words. This says it all right here.

And so what we have taken on the task of doing is to some degree trying to provide a destination, a beacon that all schools can point to, to say if we want to think differently about how we work and support our children, how do we do that? What does that look like? Because oftentimes, the ideals, and the philosophical positions that so many of you are making today are things that the majority of educators would agree with, whether they're Montessori based or not. There are things that the majority of parents would agree with, but then it always comes down to the question of, But how?

But how if we do that, particularly as students get older. But how how does this work? How does this help them succeed? So our organization is a little not for profit, very little nimble group, all educators who sort of came to this question naturally. And as you sort of saw there in the opening slides, we have a real belief about what teaching and learning should look like in schools. We're not a vendor. I want to be very clear. This is not a sales pitch today.

This is really just an opportunity to say, look, we partner with schools and thought leaders around the country and around the globe to help figure out how we can capture student growth and student learning and allow the richness of the presentation and wrestling with learning that we're talking about today to be used in a very pragmatic way and really a scalable way in institutions, and schools all around the globe. Our work has been going pretty well. We're close to 400 members and we're about four years old in doing this, and we've been really excited to see that we're continually sort of growing in our efforts to add people into this conversation. And while I know a lot of the conversation.

Today has ranged across the K-12 spectrum and the outcome and opportunity we've created, I think has a pedagogical tie across K-12. I do want to be clear that what we've constructed and I'm going to show you in a second is really intended for the for the middle years and the high school years as a way to capture it. But I think for a lot of Montessori folks or folks with more innovative schools, that's equally exciting because oftentimes, as we know, the challenge is keeping this type of learning and keeping this type of engagement beyond the early years when when when a lot of folks will say, well, well, now it matters. It matters what happens. And so I have to move away from this incredibly rich approach to learning and go to the more traditional model because, you know, it matters. And we have to measure it somehow. And the last thing I'll say is that teaser with what I'm about to show you, this transcript that we've designed that works for middle schools and high schools is if you take, at least in the US based system, the ultimate measure of success. I will simply say this works. We have some of our member schools, a small handful have actually put what I'm about to show you to work for college admissions and students are getting into schools using nothing but the device I'm about to show you. So we think it's pretty exciting. And when we say it's a game changer for schools, we really mean that.

So I'm going to actually stop that share now. But what I am going to do as well is go back and actually walk you through a couple of versions of the Mastery transcript itself so you guys can see. If you've never heard of this I hope you're excited by what you're about to see. It is different.

This is a mastery transcript. And what you're seeing here is a real high school student whose sort of growth was captured within this model of what we call the Mastery Transcript. This is our effort to allow schools to have a way to track growth, to capture learning, and then ultimately present students to an end user, whether that's an employer or a university. In a way that can be done without grades, GPAs or sorting and ranking students in any possible format.

So what you're seeing here is an actual student's transcript, what we would call a mastery transcript on display. And the essence of our request for schools who want to join us in this conversation and join us in this journey to change is as follows. Please move away from using traditional academic departments and grades as the sole metric for charting student growth. Instead, look at your school's mission, your vision, the learning outcomes you want and create what we call in our organization Mastery Credit areas, their competency areas. They are certainly in alignment with much of the conversation I've heard today. I like to call them sorting buckets. These are areas for tracking your student's journey that move away from the very narrow range of traditional academics. And then within these categories, each school essentially creates a layer two layers of rubric defined competency based outcomes, ideally transdisciplinary outcomes, that cover the range of content skills and dispositions that we want our students to be able to exhibit as they continue to grow. A richness of learning that also recognizes sort of the unique jagged shape of each student. And what schools do is they create these rubric based competency outcomes that they want to prioritize for their students that they either must or can earn. And then they and then the students sort of track their own growth in partnership with the school against this competency model.

So what you see here, if you look at this a little bit more closely, is this school in California has defined sort of six areas of growth that they want to prioritize as they track their students development through high school. You'll notice that there's certainly some reference to traditional content areas like humanities and the sciences, but they're also skill based areas and disposition based areas and a mix of the things they want their students to do. The thin lines in this model represent what we call foundational credits, which are very simply graduation requirements. They are competency rubric based competency outcomes that students must complete in order to be diploma eligible. These thicker lines are what we call advanced credits, and this ties to a student's ability to sort of go above and beyond to earn these rubric defined outcomes that go above and beyond what's simply required to earn a diploma. And it's what gives each student their unique shape in this model because they get to pursue the interests and curiosities that they might have in different directions.

So that's the foundational sort of the fundamental structure of how this approach works. And the way and the way it is sort of used by both the student and the end user is as follows When this transcript is sent to someone as sort of a representative capture of of a learning journey through high school, what an end user sees is a student constructed learner profile that they've posted in the upper left hand corner, ultimately approved by the school, because we're still talking about minors here. But the student writes, this student thinks carefully about who they are or where they're trying to go, what they want to do with their lives. And End Reader then sees a very clear sort of visual representation of how that student has grown throughout time. And they understand intuitively that sort of the bigger the piece of the pie, the more growth, time and energy a student has put into different sort of categories it makes intuitive sense that a student who says they love science and engineering might have seen their greatest growth in quantitative fluency where they've gone the furthest with their exploration and curiosity.

The other thing that they see is in evidence panel on the right, where students are responsible for submitting and attaching curated exemplars of their best work. So this is not an exhaustive digital portfolio designed to hold everything that a student has ever accomplished during their academic years. But it is an opportunity for them to say, Look, I want to show you things that I've done and I want to link them right in this transcript so that with a simple click of the mouse, as you're trying to understand and evaluate whether I'd be a great fit at your University or in your company, you can see how I framed my work. You can see comments that a faculty member may have made about my work. And most importantly, you can see my work. You can actually see what I've put on paper. But it's important to note that this type of navigation is not designed just for academics. It's not another version of replacing academics. It's really designed to fit with much of the philosophy we're talking about today of allowing students to explore and think carefully about who they are and what they're trying to contribute back to the world.

So just as in that example, it was a very sort of traditional example of core academics, if I want to isolate any particular area and learn more about it. So let's say I'm concerned, not whether the student is bright enough to be an engineer at my university, but whether this is the type of person I'd want at my university. I can isolate an area like citizenship and decision making. I can see how the school has defined that area as significant, what they mean when they talk about citizenship and decision making and I can even come down to the corresponding area below and look at the specific credits - what we call mastery credits - that the school has defined that students either must, if it's a non-advanced credit mean it's a graduation requirement or can work to earn, I can actually see what the school's expectations are. And what's really amazing is when, as we've all talked about today, you give students control, you give them the opportunity to think carefully about the construct the schools put before them and what it means to learn and engage the exemplar of learning. And I love this example here that this young woman submitted a sort of evidence of her growth is not what you would normally associate with a high powered academic high school student. But it's pictures of birthday cakes, pictures of birthday cakes that she made for the underprivileged students that she was working with. Because when she was encouraged by the school and asked by the school to partner in this learning journey, that's much more holistic than just what did you get on your biology test? The things that squelch all of the innovation and passion that so many of you have talked about today, which I know will only continue, this is a model that allows schools to do that.

So this is something we've designed and we've created. As I said, it's almost sort of an idealistic belief about what schooling and learning could and should be as they continue through their middle and high school years. But what's often taken away from students and we think it's taken away because of the grades. And we think until we can get students to stop feeling compelled in society, quite frankly, to stop feeling compelled to say, what does my child need to do to get an A, we will ultimately be able to sort of move the learning forward in a sustained way and send out the kinds of citizens that we want into the world as effectively as we could be.

The last thing I'll show you, because I get this question a lot, is, although our encouragement is that schools move away from traditional academic departments to define these personalised, each school gets to define the buckets that they'd like to use for the student learning journey. If academics are still sort of core, it is worth pointing out that we do still capture classes at the bottom of this transcript. We recognise as students get older that content may matter but what we allow schools to do is simply record the courses were completed in the high school year and simply put a completion date. We don't put years because one of the things we're trying to do, which I think is perfectly aligned with so much of what we've heard today so far, is that the challenge that schools, particularly high schools, have right now is in the simple equation of the learning and the traditional school model. Time has become a constant and learning is the variable. And what we're trying to allow with a model like this is to say learning should be the constant and time should be the variable as we track the different stages of development and growth that's possible for all kids. So that was a very fast overview and I will stop there because I know we're trying to sort of stick to our 15 minutes and I'll certainly look forward to other questions or curiosities that may follow from this.

Made possible by the Prepared Adult Initiative.