In theory, most educators likely agree with the philosophy behind Mastery Learning—that there are specific standards that matter most in each course and that our goal is to make sure that each student truly masters, or reaches proficiency, on those standards.
Yet, once we move the the details of how it works, sticking points arise.
In my experience, one of the biggest was coming to agreement on the idea of “sufficient opportunity to demonstrate proficiency”. Teachers, understandably, worried about the following:
1. If students know that they can keep trying, they won’t put effort in the first time around. i.e, they won’t study hard for test on Tuesday, knowing they can just make it up on Friday.
2. Teachers will be inundated with creating multiple versions of tests in order to allow for retakes and THEN, they will have to correct all of those.
Here’s how I would address those reasonable concerns. (I would love to hear others’ thoughts.)
I do think the first concern is somewhat unfounded. Most students don’t want to keep taking the same, or similar, assessments over and over again. However, we do want to make sure that retakes aren’t just for getting a better grade, but are an opportunity to show mastery of important standards.
Therefore, I recommend using a RETAKE TICKET.
a. It puts ownership on the student. As she reflects on her learning, she has to articulate where she’s having trouble and what she, in partnership with the teacher, can do about it.
b. It connects teacher, student and parent. Including space for parent comments and not just a signature brings the parent into the conversation about the student’s learning.
The second concern, the one that reasonably worries about teachers’ time to create additional assessments, is valid. Here are my thoughts:
1. Only have students redo work that was sub-par. If a test was designed to assess proficiency on standards 1, 2, and 3 and the student demonstrated proficiency in standards 1 and 2, then he/she now only needs to demonstrate proficiency on that 3rd standard.
2. Use the same test. At my children’s school, students are required to do “test corrections” after math assessments. It’s a wonderful practice because it forces students to reflect on what they know and don’t, where and why they made errors, and how to come at a problem differently in order to solve it correctly. Currently, “test corrections” is its own grading category, counting for far less than assessments in calculating a final grade. I would recommend simply replacing assessment grades when test corrections show proficiency.
3. Put a “hold” on the grade. Make it clear that the original assessment grade will be adjusted once the student demonstrates proficiency. That might be done via test corrections or at the next point of assessment.
A couple of other points about retakes. I know some teachers and schools set a cut-off grade for retakes. For example, a student who scores an 80 or better cannot retake the test. I don’t get this. Yes, we want to avoid grade-grubbing (and in my perfect world, we wouldn’t use traditional grades), but if a student wants to go deeper, self-correct, get better—then by all means let him or her. In using the retake sheet and comments, we can see if the student’s motives are about true learning. If not, that’s fodder for a conversation—but not a reason to not allow.
Also, I can hear teachers saying, What about the kid who always needs a retake? Well, this is the same problem you would have if you didn’t allow retakes—the kid who is failing class. It’s time for a conversation with student, parent and, perhaps, a learning specialist to begin to figure out why the student is either not learning or not performing.
Really, these are just steps along the way to shifting mindsets—of students and educators. Mastery learning is a mindset, not just a set of strategies that tinker around the edges of the old system. However, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And using retake sheets is as good a step as any.
P.S. Another way to shift the burden from teachers to students is to have students self-assess. That’s another post 🙂Read More
David Aderhold, a superintendent in New Jersey recently put an end to HS mid-term and final exams in a well-intentioned attempt to ease pressure on increasingly anxious kids–pressure also discussed in this recent NY Times opinion piece and the film Race to Nowhere.
Aderhold’s decision led to a vigorous debate in his community–with one side firmly standing with the superintendent, led by concern about their children’s mental health. Those on the other side worried that the superintendent was dumbing down education.
It’s possible that neither side is completely right or wrong and that there’s a way to satisfy both camps: standards-based learning (and grading).
What we really want to do is focus on learning, not grades. At the same time, we want to ensure that what kids are learning and how they demonstrate that learning is rigorous and prepares them to take on deeper and tougher material as they proceed through high school and beyond. Done right, SBL satisfies both sides. It takes away the singular focus on grades and GPA and it provides a rigorous pathway.
Using SBL, courses have clear standards–what students must know and be able to do to prove that they have successfully completed a course. Instead, each of the course’s power standards are clearly unpacked, so that any teacher teaching the course, any student learning in the course and any parent what mastery looks like, what approaching mastery looks like, and what it looks like to exceed mastery. It’s then up to the learning community to support students to reach for mastery and beyond, while supporting students who struggle by clearly showing what’s needed to get to the next level.*
Getting to SBL takes time and work and consensus building as it’s a change from what we’ve always done. I truly hope we’ll all get there someday, but until then, I have a few suggestions for schools who want to both ease pressure and promote rigor.
It is actually possible to have kids love rigorous learning. SBL could well be a key.Read More