Grades are taking a back seat to knowledge as a committee works on developing new standards for admission to Washington’s four-year colleges and universities.
In the future, instead of two years of high school science or four years of English, students probably will have a checklist of “competencies” to demonstrate in each subject.
For example: “Examine and critique major ideas and themes in the literature of the United States and relate this literature to historical events and contemporary issues.”
Or, instead of a “B” in algebra, students will be expected to “prove knowledge of linear, quadratic, polynomial, logarithmic and exponential functions and their applications.”
The committee plans to present a first round of recommendations to the Higher Education Coordinating Board for approval at its meeting in June. The committee was created by the state Legislature’s passage of the education reform act in 1993.
The new system envisioned by the committee uses the “Certificate of Mastery,” awarded at age 16, as the foundation and adds lists of additional skills students need to be ready for college.
Students will no longer be able to rely on their overall grade point averages to compensate for a “D” in German or geometry.
Students “are going to have to demonstrate competency in every subject area,” said Doug Scrima, a senior policy associate at the HEC board and chairman of the committee developing the new standards.
The hope is that admissions officers will get a more accurate picture of the student’s abilities than a grade-inflated high school transcript. Students will have to demonstrate what they know, rather than how many classes they sat through.
“We have more 4.0 students than we’ve ever had before, but the test scores are remaining the same,” Scrima said. “What does that tell students? You need to take more math, or you need to know math better?”
Washington is one of several states developing college admissions standards based on a roster of specific skills or knowledge, known as competency-based admissions.
“I think we can still consider competency-based admissions on the cutting edge,” said Esther Rodriguez, associate executive director of the State Higher Education Executive Officers, a national association of college leaders. “There are a few states, and more are emerging.”
New college admissions standards have been driven by reforms in elementary and secondary education.
In Oregon, 1991 legislation mandated high school performance certificates not unlike those that will be required in Washington.
Two years later, Oregon’s Board of Higher Education began developing a list of knowledge and skills that students needed to be ready for college. Beginning with freshmen admitted in fall term 2001, students will be expected to demonstrate proficiency in six content areas.
Some Washington school districts are restructuring in advance of 2000, when new essential learning requirements and testing become mandatory. Colleges have to get ready to accommodate the changes.
Beginning in fall 1998, Washington plans to begin pilot-testing the new admissions system. The Legislature’s 1997-99 budget includes $140,000 for further development of the competency-based admissions system.
Next steps include figuring out how to assess the students and what a transcript might look like.
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