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  • Lauren Smith, M.AT., and Dana Kravchick Ph.D.

Why mastery based learning is our only option.

You may have seen this quote before. “The hardest hit communities... where students fell behind by more than 1.5 years in math—would have to teach 150 percent of a typical year’s worth of material for three years in a row—just to catch up. It is magical thinking to expect that will happen without a major increase in instructional time.”

Inequality in learning existed before the pandemic. COVID-19 just made it bigger.

With teacher shortages getting larger - indeed, it’s magical thinking to expect Ohio students to ‘catch up’ without changing the rules of the game.

Districts must face the reality - there is a huge variability in students' proficiency. If we try to keep going at it by ‘catching them up,’ it will fail. With every new year, additional standards are mounting, and students still lack foundational skills from previous years, preventing them from understanding the new skills required. We must acknowledge that many students are behind grade level proficiency and actively meet them where they are, wherever that may be. We need to find a way to scale mastery-based learning in a sustainable and effective way for large public schools with low teacher-to-student ratios. The need to support teachers in doing so is high because it is inhuman and unsustainable to expect a single teacher to get her class at the same pace when 50% or more are below base proficiency. To start, we MUST begin handing the keys over to kids so they can drive their education.

When mastery works and kids take responsibility for their learning, we can expect 1.5 years of growth in one academic year. In fact, that’s just the beginning. In schools we’ve worked with - we’ve seen kids go well beyond that. Below are the numbers we observed for reading.

By teaching kids in mastery-based learning environments, we have no choice but to let go of controlling the pace of instruction and learning. We guide them to be responsible for their learning in various ways: We establish academic goals and celebrate progress of any kind. We provide small group and individualized instruction based on their needs and share and discuss data - all with the personalized learning plan in mind. We teach them to become self-regulated learners. And that is the best gift we can ever give them.

Switching to mastery-based learning will not only help kids gain the confidence they need to get back on their feet but also help them become self-regulated learners - they will develop a motivation to learn. That in and of itself will promote long-term equity across classroom and grade-level learning. As self-regulated learners, they will have developed skills to help them thrive in whatever environment. They will be able to take advantage of a wider variety of options to earn higher education in any academic field because they will have the mental tools established to successfully learn using online tools such as Coursera, Udacity, and others.

It is up to us to drive this change. To find ways to work with students and teachers. To scale this model and make mastery-based learning sustainable and effective in classrooms of all sizes for all our teachers and students.

We at Wavio are building the tools to get these changes started. We provide real-time information on student status, monitor mastery progression, and create tools to schedule small group sessions with the lift of a finger. We are making customized learning a breeze so that everyone can enjoy it. Our pilot program is sailing soon. Will you join us?


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