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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'Mastery learning' means lots of testing, and choices about what's essential

U.S. students should get a high school diploma when they meet state standards in core subjects, writes Checker Finn. It doesn't matter how many classes they sat through or how many credits awarded. If they can show competency -- probably by taking tests -- they get the diploma.


In a mastery-based system, students would move through school at their own pace, moving to the next level when they show they're ready, he proposes. Compulsory attendance laws would be abolished. Some students would need more time to earn a diploma. Others would need less.


"Disrupting" high school by shifting from credits to competency could create a better, stronger experience for students, writes Fordham's Michael Petrilli. But it will be very hard to get there from here.

How would students show competency? By passing tests -- a lot more high-stakes tests. Many people don't like tests. They don't like the results.


Policymakers would have to decide where to set the bar for a diploma. How much mastery is enough? If the bar is set at the "college-ready" level, writes Petrilli, that will mean "denying a diploma to millions of young people." That's not doable. "If it should be set lower, how low is too low?"


Should career-tech students be able to skip some college-prep courses to make time for work-based learning? Which ones?


Should high schools drop requirements so students can pursue their interests?


Should students have to show mastery of "social and emotional" skills?


Finally, asks Petrilli, "how do we deal with the enormous variation in student readiness upon arrival in high school?" Schools are likely to stratify even further "along line of achievement, race, and/or class."

The reason that state standards, textbooks, and student schedules are stuffed to the brim is that every identity group pushes hard for their stories and histories to be represented, and every interest group pushes to use America’s curriculum to address their societal concerns. Moving to a competency-based approach won’t change that. Everyone will just fight over what’s on the competency-based assessments and/or which assessments students must pass in order to graduate.

Like Petrilli, I think the only solution is different levels of diploma for those who want to succeed in college, succeed in career training or do the minimum to get out of high school.


He envisions a commission that would set essential graduation requirements and avoid creating an unworkable wish list (“wouldn’t it be wonderful if every student was able to do these 1,001 things...”)


The Carnegie Foundation and the XQ Institute are working on "building a new educational architecture that shifts the sector to a truly competency-based system and away from time-bound conceptions of what knowledge is and how it is acquired," write Russlynn Ali and Timothy F.C. Knowles on The 74.


Is it doable?

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14 commenti


Ospite
24 ott 2023

One thing we know is that the schools will not let students test out early as that will cut into the federal funding. Been that way since I was in high school. My senior year, I showed up to sign in prior to the federal attendance cut off before lunch so they left me alone. I made my grades. But if I started coming in so I wasn't counted, then they would have done something.

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
24 ott 2023

Switzerland has three diploma levels, for advanced, vocational, and specialized upper secondary education: the former is the most frequently completed, but most youth opt for apprenticeships and don't care much about the pieces of paper, preferring well-paying, skilled employment without a lifetime of debt repayment, instead, while standards are maintained above those of the IB Diploma for all qualified students admitted to state-subsidized universities.

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
26 ott 2023
Risposta a

How do you know? I think the "equity" doctrine, which anticipates equal outcomes for all classified groups (even when the classifications are absurd, such as "Asian"), is extremely politically vulnerable, and am searching for politically active fellow citizens who agree: there are plenty of political polls that support our cause, and I think what is mainly lacking is political courage to stand up for the truth.

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Ospite
24 ott 2023

NY already has different Diploma levels...but due to admin, most students that are academically capable can't get a seat in the courses that lead to the Advanced Regents Diploma or an Associate's Degree while being of compelled age.

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Ospite
24 ott 2023

A mastery system would need to give up many of the things the middle and upper middle class associate with high school such as sports, proms, band, choir, clubs. Those groups depend more upon the age groupings than English/Math.

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lady_lessa
25 ott 2023
Risposta a

I find that sad, because music as much or more than many team sports can be a part of a person's life for a long time.

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