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The Griffin

Defending mastery grading

Sophie Bates, Editor-in-Chief

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I bombed my first reading check in Advanced Placement Psychology. But good news came quickly when my teacher, Tom Maranville, informed the class that we would be able to redo these note based checks.
What set his class apart from others was his grading policy. His technique aimed to encourage students to understand and learn their material by allowing them to redo their assignments. I owe much of the knowledge I gained to the grading policy that allowed failure.
Now, two years later, mastery grading is in full effect. When this was first announced, my friends and I thought this would mean an easy A for everyone. Although I had taken a mastery grading class before, my senioritis-infected ears perceived that I could now slack on homework.
Nuh-uh, honey.
After initially neglecting my homework, I quickly realized the error in my ways. Without practice, I failed my summative assessments, which killed my grade. Quickly, I got my act together and did my homework.
In preparation for a redo assignment, students are required not only to study for the quiz but also to complete a form to demonstrate proof of effort to master the material for a redo. Who wants to go back, fill out a form, and make changes to their notes just to redo a 5-point reading check?
I do.
I’ve been able to experience mastery grading in a variety of classes and on a variety of levels. Overall, this method has had a beneficial effect on both my grade and stress level.
In Advanced Placement European History, I have redone reading checks. This style of grading has prevented my usual copy-down-a-couple-of-sentences-from-the-book method, and actually encouraged me to study on a deeper level.
On the other hand, in my Honors Calculus class, there are no grades other than actual summative assessments and quizzes that take place every two weeks. Although this is a different type of class, mastery grading techniques have improved my study habits here as well.
I’ve been so caught up in my new learning experience that it’s been easy to forget that this is also a pilot year for teachers.
In an anonymous paper survey distributed in teacher mailboxes earlier this month, teachers were asked to rate their approval of the mastery grading on a scale of one to five.
Out of 40 teachers, 13 percent disapproved, 37 percent were ambivalent and 13 percent approved of the policy. The remainder had views that didn’t fit in any one category.
While I understand why many teachers are hesitant to adopt this new policy, I believe that over time, it will be advantageous for all.
A common concern was that classwork would not be graded. But classwork is not completely obsolete with mastery grading. The new policy qualifies that classwork can be graded as long as it is a “summative assignment” of the material learned in class.
In addition, I do think quizzes and tests should be graded with more weight than classwork. Classwork can often be busy work. Rather, grading students on true learning incentivizes students to understand the material below the surface.
I take higher level classes to prepare for college. I won’t have completion grades in college and I want to be ready for that type of environment.
Given the improvement in my study habits and learning, mastery grading is going well in my book.

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