Marysville school officials are gearing up for a change in the elementary report cards.
During a work session of the Marysville Board of Education on Monday night, district superintendent Diane Mankins gave each board member a copy of the book “Grading for Equity” by Joe Feldman. The focus of the book is explaining the ins and outs of mastery learning.
The district is committed to a mastery-learning model in kindergarten through sixth grades. Officials said elementary students have already been using a mastery-learning model, but report cards reflected a traditional grading system. A team of district administrators is currently trying to determine what report cards would look like under the mastery model.
Mastery learning, which is already being used at the district’s early college high school, focuses on a student mastering a topic or skill before moving on to one that is more advanced. Students are allowed to spend more time on topics when they struggle and to take tests multiple times to ensure they have a firm grasp of the required skills.
Currently, students are grouped together by age and taught skills on a similar timeline. If they do not fully grasp the topic, poor test grades can result. But a poor test grade does not mean the student will not move on to the next lesson with classmates.
Under a traditional educational model time is the constant while the student’s knowledge is the variable, meaning testing is done at a fixed point regardless of the student’s grasp of the topic.
Mastery learning flips that equation.
“The learning is what we want,” Mankins said. “Time is the variable.”
The idea is that students no longer move on without the proper foundation to process the next lesson. It also seeks to avoid situations where students perform poorly on tests and simply think they will never perform well in certain subject.
Sal Khan from of the non-profit Khan Academy educational organization says to think of the traditional educational model in terms of a construction project.
“We were told we have two weeks to build a foundation. Do what you can. So the workmen do what they can. Maybe it rains. Maybe some of the supplies don’t show up. After two weeks the inspector comes to check on the foundation and says ‘Ok, the concrete is still wet right over here and that part’s not quite up to code. I’ll give it an 80%.’ Then you say ‘Great! That’s quite good. Let’s build the first floor.’ … After the fourth floor the whole structure just collapses. It’s not the fault of the contractor, or that you needed better or more frequent inspection. Just like it’s not the fault of the teacher. Here’s what really happened: the whole process is broken. We build right on top of al those little gaps because we didn’t have enough time. Because the train rides on.”
Officials are finalizing plans now to attempt to meet with all parents of elementary school students to give them information on what to expect from next year’s report cards. What parents will likely see is traditional letter grades replaced with a levels of “Mastery,” “Approaching Mastery” or “Not Yet Mastered” on a series of skills. Students who are advanced can also score “Mastery Plus” on skills.
The Early College High School still uses a traditional grading system for mastery learning model.
Mankins said adopting changes to middle school and high school grade cards will be more problematic, because college transcripts still rely heavily on a letter grading system. Middle school also factors into the transcripts because many high school level courses are now taught in middle school.
Mankins said the Marysville High School (MHS) could follow suit as more courses adopt the new model.
She said teachers at MHS are already integrating the mastery model into courses such as chemistry and foreign languages.
At Monday’s meeting, board member Nan Savidge asked if students in mastery learning models could succeed in a college setting where more traditional testing structure is in place.
“We don’t have to look like college to prepare for college,” Mankins said today.
She said the goal is to arm student with the skills abilities they need to accomplish anything put in front of them.
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