School of the Future: Mastery, not Grades

In “What Straight-A Students Get Wrong” Adam Grant highlights the fact that grades do not predict career excellence.

Wait, what?

For some people, this revelation may turn the world upside down.

Even worse,

“Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional and political intelligence. Yes, straight-A students master cramming information and regurgitating it on exams. But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem — it’s more about finding the right problem to solve.”

Our VUCA world involves more and more problems we have never seen before... but grades only work for known problems with known solutions.

So if an educator’s purpose is to create the conditions for learning, what is an alternative to grades?

Mastery-based assessments*

Mastery-based assessments address core skills and essential knowledge. More importantly, they reframe learning as ongoing growth experiences (degrees of mastery) rather than artificial end-points (grades).

Schools of the Past and the Present focus on grades. (If that still doesn’t sound so bad, note that, as Adam Grant points out, “Getting straight A’s requires conformity.”)

Schools of the Future will focus on mastery, because thriving in a VUCA world requires us to be lifelong learners.

*For a great introduction to mastery-based assessment design, check out this piece by Eric Hudson from Global Online Academy.

**Equally worth examining is the work of the Mastery Transcript Consortium.


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Christian Talbot