Mastery-based grading: from minimum mindset to a growth mindset

Using technology for deep learning

What is mastery-based grading?

Mastery-based grading is an innovative system for assessing learners that promotes deeper learning. The idea behind this fresh grading concept is to structure your courses in a way that allows learners the time and flexibility to focus on mastering a standard rather than achieving a certain number or letter grade.

Mastery-based grading encourages student agency 

How many times have your learners asked what is the “minimum grade” I need to achieve to pass? This question makes teachers cringe because we know that it means their goal is to invest the least possible effort into their success.

Good news, mastery-based grading encourages learners to transition from a minimum mindset to a growth mindset. 

In this system, student choice reigns giving learners the flexibility to choose how they demonstrate mastery and gives them the chance to attempt mastery as many times as necessary. Now, having more choice in their learning, learners can take the reins and drive their learning journey through student agency. It is time to convert to mastery-based grading to provide learners a path to deeper learning, and greater transparency into their learning using Hapara Workspace and Student Dashboard.

How to implement mastery-based grading

Break down learning targets

It is crucial to know your destination to effectively approach your plan of action. Good luck getting in your car and driving to a brand new destination without typing the address in Google Maps! The same concept applies to the path learners take to achieve success. It all starts with understanding what it means to achieve mastery, so breaking down the standards into learning targets makes the goal clearer and more attainable for learners. Often, learners will grab on to broad concepts from a unit without knowing the standards associated with these concepts or what it means to successfully demonstrate mastery. This can lead to frustration and increased remediation time as learners fall further behind in their learning journey. At the beginning of each unit, have learners work in groups to put standards into their own words, and then have a share session with the entire class. Developing these shared understandings is the first crucial step in transforming your grading system.

Single-point rubrics

One way to support learner understanding is to spend the time to create a single-point rubric for each standard. This means providing them with a rubric that explains all of the elements that learners must demonstrate to accomplish mastery and label it “meets expectations.” This makes creating a rubric for learner mastery easier and simpler to understand because any work that does not meet that criteria is considered “below expectations,” and anything that goes above and beyond what is outlined in the rubric “exceeds expectations.” To avoid confusion, make sure that your rubric only includes the elements from the standard, and not extras like “grammar” or “spelling” if that is not explicitly outlined in the standard. In your Workspace’s Rubric column, have the outline of your single point rubric for learners to access 24/7. Not only does it provide clarity for learners, but it also saves a teacher’s most precious resource . . . time!

Does not meetMeets expectationsExceeds expectations
Learners do not meet expectations if they are not able to demonstrate the learning targets outlined in the “meets expectations” column.Learners meet expectations on the following standard if they are able to demonstrate the following through various methods: RL.6.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments. I am able to identify a theme based on evidence from the text. I am able to give specific details and evidence from the text to support the theme I identified. I am able to give a summary of the text in my own words based only on information from the text.Learners exceed expectations if they are able to demonstrate the learning targets outlined in the “meets expectations” column, and is able to apply their learning to real world situations.

The results of mastery-based grading systems 

Mastery not minimum

One interesting development of mastery-based grading is that learners will stop the “minimum grade” mindset that often keeps them from developing a deeper understanding of the material, and transition into a true growth mindset. With the new system, learners will stop placing so much emphasis on the letter or number that appears on their report card, and spend their energy zoned in on ensuring they level up their learning based on the mastery rubric they receive for each standard. The Hapara Suite provides visibility into learner work, making it easy to provide timely, actionable feedback. As learners complete their assignments, they can use the feedback from their teacher to reflect on and improve their work. Learners are more active and engaged in their success, and more likely to achieve mastery and teachers can spend less time in remediation.

Authentic learning

Mastery-based learning lends itself to project-based learning because learners are given the choice to demonstrate their mastery in a way that fits their learning style and interests. Now, teachers can be more prescriptive in guiding learners on their personalized learning journey, and learners will be more dialed in on their strengths and weaknesses. One way to achieve this is to build a Workspace with a playlist of real-world problems or challenges aligned to the unit, and curate content within each Workspace to support learner understanding of the issue. This content can include videos, reading materials, edtech games, teacher-created lecture screencasts and any other digital resource you have access to so learners can have the flexibility and transparency to access materials at all times. In conjunction with the single-point rubric, learners have the freedom to develop artifacts that demonstrate true mastery of the standard and even build an impressive student portfolio.

Student agency

A mastery-based grading system is only successful when students are the drivers of their own learning. When students take ownership of their learning, it gives them a greater understanding of how they learn and why they learn. This means that learners take guidance from teachers on how to develop solid executive functioning skills so they can manage their digital environment and track their progress. Hapara Student Dashboard can be used as a modeling tool by educators to demonstrate how to boost executive functioning skills such as time management and organization. Learners do not arrive to school with the innate ability to know how to successfully manage their work. Without proper guidance, the absence of executive functioning skills can become a point of frustration for learners and a barrier to success. Now, learners have a hub that keeps them in the know with Google Classroom assignments, organizes work by due date and catalogues files in a way that assists learners in developing responsibility for their own work. In order for learners to thrive in a mastery-based grading environment, they must have true agency over their learning environment to manage the freedom and flexibility afforded to them by playlists and project-based learning.



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