Recently, the Boston Globe ran an article that described a different approach from several private universities on criteria used for admitting students. The plan is to eliminate grades on transcripts and scores on standardized tests as the primary reason for admissions to their university. Instead, admission will be based on “mastery of specific skills, such as the ability to collaborate, think creatively and analytically, take initiative, assess risk, solve problems, or write coherently”. That is a radical change!

The article was interesting on its own merit. The online comments, however, were far more entertaining. Many were critical of the approach claiming that it is a way for wealthy families to get their children into elite schools without having good grades. Some called it the “dumbing down” of America or perhaps another way of making sure every child gets a trophy. Only a few commenters were supportive of the new approach. Whatever your belief, it causes us to question what criteria should be used to determine the readiness of a graduate for college and career choices.

I believe grades for school work are necessary. Grades serve as one measure of knowledge and comprehension. Without question, you must have content knowledge to know how to use math in everyday life. You must be able to read to understand a bank statement or mortgage. I also believe there is a place for standardized tests to see the achievement and growth of students in their academic endeavors. Grades and test scores, however, are only two pieces of the puzzle needed when determining if a student is genuinely ready for graduation.

Employers are increasingly looking beyond grades and test scores as the primary criteria for employment. If you don’t believe me, just ask them.

This summer the Sylacauga City Schools administrative team visited Shipt, an online company that specializes in being your personal grocery shopper. The necessary skills that were pervasively mentioned by their employees and management team were abilities to effectively communicate and work together. Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, says that persistence and curiosity are the two most important job traits. When hiring teachers, we are looking for prospects that have all of these skills.

In Sylacauga, our goal is to focus on what we believe are best measures of the readiness of our graduates. We want to “redefine” what “ready” means. Of course we are working hard to improve grades and test scores. We are working harder, however, to prepare students with the skills they need to be successful in their college and career choices. We know that, in the end, an employer is more interested in the skills an employee has than the just the grades on their transcript.

Sylacauga City Schools wants our students to walk away on graduation night genuinely prepared for their next step in life. We want to create meaningful learning experiences that lead to industry certifications, military enlistments, and college acceptance for students. We want them to be prepared to work hard, be on time, be disciplined and drug free, and be dependable. To borrow a phrase from Nick Saban, we want our “process” to truly engage students. The grades and scores will then take care of themselves.

Our optimism for the new year is overflowing. Sylacauga City Schools is committed to preparing each graduate to be successful in their college and career aspirations and to be a productive citizen in the community. Ready, set, go!

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Dr. Todd Freeman is Superintendent of Sylacauga City Schools. Almost 2,400 students are enrolled in Sylacauga’s school system — Sylacauga High School, Indian Valley Elementary School, Nichols-Lawson Middle School, and Pinecrest Elementary School. Follow Dr. Freeman on Twitter at mtfreeman or visit www.sylacauga.k12.al.us.

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