Dumping the D-: What mastery learning looks like
Windsor Locks students master a set of skills to pass courses.
In Windsor Locks, Connecticut, “24 credits and a D-minus average” aren’t good enough to earn a high school diploma, Superintendent Susan Bell tells Hechinger’s Tara Garcia Mathewson.
The small, formerly low-performing district has shifted to a “mastery” model, sometimes called “competency-based learning.” Coursework is broken down into skills. Students must learn the skills to move on to something new. If they need more time to reach mastery, that’s OK.
After five years, test scores are rising and the district no longer is considered low-performing.
According to 2015-16 state accountability data, high-needs students in the district performed better than high-needs students statewide in both English language arts and math, and, overall, district students showed more growth than the students statewide.
In addition to being assessed on mastery of academics, students receive a separate evaluation for “habits of scholarship,” such as “conducts self in an appropriate manner,” “completes homework,” “maximizes time on task” and “participates in class discussions.”
“To participate in extracurricular activities, students must be in good standing behaviorally as well as academically,” writes Mathewson.
Getting parents to buy in to the new model has been a challenge.
Competency Works looks at mastery-based learning in New Haven Public Schools, Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public Schools, Superintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut and New Haven Academy.