Transferable Skills: Critical or Forgotten?

“Can you be patriotic if you avoid the draft?”  

Students are circled around the edge of the room for a graded discussion in U.S. History, a required course for juniors. Patrick Towne sits listening, waiting for a gap to jump in. He is being graded on Transferable Skill 2.1, Effective and Expressive Communication.

This is one of U-32’s six transferable skills, a set of standards that may be used in a variety of jobs and settings. Transferable skills focus on “real life tools” that are not specific to one subject, like communication, critical thinking and self-awareness.

In an interview this winter, WCSU’s Director of Curriculum, Jen Miller-Arsenault said that

“right now transferable skills are required for graduation,” but that it is still a work in progress. She noted that “in general, students who had opted for more electives were moving along faster toward proficiency in transferable skills.”

Students, however, have not seen transferable skills prioritized. They are frequently told that these skills are important and should not be neglected, but there have been two main issues.

First, transferable skills have been removed from the calculation of course grades, meaning that your participation, and homework completion do not always affect course grades. Secondly, although the administration has told students that they must be proficient in all 41 standards to graduate, there have not been clear expectations around transferable skills.

There is a looming question that nobody seems to have a clear answer for: are next year’s graduating seniors going to be held responsible for achieving proficiency in every transferable skill?

Transferable skills are graded in each class, but they are compiled separately, outside the course grade. Right now many students are still not proficient in all six transferable skills, and there doesn’t seem to be a plan.

Teachers and administration acknowledge that students are not on track to graduate in time without extra help. Summer school is focusing on academic standards in which many students are not proficient. But there has been no recognition of how to achieve proficiency in transferable skills, particularly the ones that are graded less.

There are only a couple of the 6 transferable skills that teachers frequently grade. Waylon Kurts is a typical junior at U-32. He says that “transferable skill four is the only one that I can call by name, because it is used across the broad spectrum of classes offered at U-32. Others are made to be much more class-specific, so they are only assessed a few times.”

“Finding motivation to do homework has become more difficult,” Waylon says, “because doing homework in a class used to affect the overall class grade. Now, missing assignments are just lumped under transferable skill four: working independently and collaboratively. It’s ridiculous, because transferable skill four is meant to incorporate so much more than just busywork.”

“I know how I am doing in all of my academic standards,”  he says, “but have no bearing on where I am in terms of meeting proficiency in transferable skills.”