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Making the Grade: Clear and Consistent Evaluation of International Transcripts: Clear and Consistent Evaluation of International Transcripts

By Mary Martinez-Wenzl | December 6, 2017

Mary Martinez-Wenzl
Mary Martinez-Wenzl is a senior research advisor at Education Northwest. Her research experience and publications have focused on English learners and immigrant students, college readiness, and community colleges.

Imagine trying to master Algebra II while also learning a new language, making all new friends, dealing with homesickness, and navigating your way through a foreign culture. This is the situation many newcomer immigrant students face.

Now imagine that in addition to these challenges, you show up to your new school and are told you must retake classes you already took in your home country. Many of the credits you earned will not be accepted. The graduation finish line just got farther away.

How might you feel? Angry? Confused? Demoralized?

Unfortunately, this is a very real situation for many newcomer immigrant students in the United States. What may seem like a straightforward process--evaluating and making decisions about newcomer students' previous schooling experiences--can end up having life-changing consequences.

There are many reasons for this. For example, well-meaning educators may assume that students who are learning English will benefit from taking classes that cover content they already know. Or, they may think it's necessary for students to repeat a course because they originally took it in another language and therefore it "doesn't count" or "wasn't rigorous."

Too often, however, the cause is simply that schools and districts don't have a coherent, systematic basis for evaluating foreign transcripts. Without strong district leadership and clear policies, the evaluation can vary from school to school or even counselor to counselor.

This is something we can and must address. For newcomer students to reach their full academic potential, we must place those students in the appropriate classes, from the start. We must give them credit where credit is due.

To do so, districts should establish policies that create clear, consistent guidelines. REL Northwest recently produced an infographic that outlines three steps for this process:

  1. Obtaining and translating transcripts
  2. Interpreting schooling experiences
  3. Making decisions about credit transfer and placement

The infographic also provides links to resources, such as sample guides, policies, and procedures that can help schools and districts accurately and consistently award credits to newcomer students. It can also ensure that schools are fulfilling their obligation to provide students with meaningful access to core curriculum.

Having consistent guidelines in place allows schools to meet students where they're at, which ultimately increases their chance to succeed in high school and beyond.

Further, when schools establish systems and policies that recognize prior educational experiences, they validate the skills and knowledge of newcomer students. This approach emphasizes strengths and communicates to newcomer students that they are an asset, not a liability. Imagine how much difference that might make in the life of a student.