Standards- Aligned Mastery Grading By Dr. April Yetsko, International School of Monagas, Venezuela
The International School of Monagas made a big change this year. We transitioned from traditional report cards to standards-aligned mastery grading and report cards in the elementary school.
Mastery grading has a different purpose than traditional grading and is a paradigm shift in how we frame assessment. Assessment determines what standards students have mastered and allow group and individual instruction to respond to strengths and needs. The reporting becomes a tool to communicate student achievement, stimulate conversation around learning, focus on performance over multiple opportunities.
In traditional grading, a letter grade on a test may communicate how a student performed on multiple standards (example: grammar, developing a character, vocabulary usage, spelling, and handwriting) as well as non-standard based areas (attendance, motivation, participation, behavior). In standards-based mastery grading information on mastery of a standard is the information of focus. Each standard is considered separately in order to communicate what the individuals and the class have mastered.
Below is an example of an overview of the scores that a teacher received on one reading assessment.
The four standards (RL2.1, RL2.3, RL2.5, and L2.4) are reported individually although they were given on the same assessment and had multiple questions for each standard. By focusing on mastery of each standard, the teacher can quickly see the areas that the class has mastered (L2.4) and that on the other standards there are still students who need support to reach mastery.
Looking at individual student scores allows teachers, students, and parents to quickly determine what areas have reached mastery and which need additional support. For the teacher to help move the class towards mastery, individual students or small groups address areas that still needs support. Standards-aligned mastery grading gives teachers this information so that they can quickly and fluidly group students to differentiate for learning needs for each standard.
There is a simple reason to adopt mastery grading: it refocuses grading on providing information about what students do and do not know. Key information for a teacher to determine what to do next in class and for students to take ownership of their learning. Traditional grading may have the same intention, but this information is hidden under many other layers (averages, extra credit, attendance, behavior).
At ISM we are using Mastery Connect (www.masteryconnect.com) to collect assessment data and produce our elementary report cards. A quick glance at a teacher’s tracker (equivalent to a gradebook) shows how students are performing (students are listed in the rows) as well as how the class is progressing on a given standard.
A quick glance at this section of the tracker and you can see that many students still need to work on standards 6.EE.A.4 and 6.EE.B.7 but after interventions with individuals on the other two standards and everyone will achieve mastery. Furthermore, the teacher can immediately see which students need work on the problem standards and can pull small groups that will allow students who have already mastered these standards to move on. In traditional grading the teacher would not have this information or would have to spend a lot of time trying to tease it out of the information gathered on a test. This allows teachers to start to individualize content to ensure that all students are working to their full potential.
Implementation of this grading system requires teacher training and parent training. At ISM, the teachers are implementing these report cards throughout the elementary program. Before our first quarter report cards we opened up training for parents. While we focused on how to read them, the biggest discussion focused on what to do when students are not showing mastery. This is a paradigm shift for parents. The first reaction is to consider remediation in an area as an F. Not so! Near Mastery or remediation illuminate areas that teachers and students need to focus. Sometimes we see remediation because the students are just learning the material. Other times remediation reflects that additional support is needed. Either way, we caution parents to look at this as information- to focus support and studying rather than as areas of deficiency. All students should have areas where they are working towards mastery if we are successful in providing instruction in the Zoe of Proximal Development. These grades are fluid, and after re-teaching and re-assessing, we hope to have students move to mastery of the standards that were in remediation.
As we get started on reframing our grading, we define areas in need of continued improvements. This includes ensuring that assessment is consistently aligned to instruction, design of remediation, implementing practices to allow for differentiation of instruction for students based on their mastery levels, and of course fidelity of implementation. Additionally, we are looking at how to implement this in the secondary school. Because students transfer to other programs or colleges, a hybrid grading procedure could be put into place ensuring that our grades are based on mastery, but we produce traditional grades for transcripts. This is still being discussed and developed based on models used by other schools.
Like everything else in education, needs are changing and technology is changing. We are working hard to keep up and meet the needs of our students. Standards-aligned mastery grading is one way we hope to ensure rigorous assessment, address student needs, and differentiate instruction.