Mastery grading policy has evolved: attitudes must as well

Matt Ellis and Victor Yang

Mastery grading, whether people like it or not, is here to stay. Announced in late August, the policy is the subject of much debate.
The intent was to ensure that students are graded on how well they have learned rather than mere behaviors, such as participating or turning in work. On paper, mastery grading has the potential to revitalize student motivation. But the implementation of this policy has been so uncoordinated that all have struggled to acclimate, and first quarter grades have suffered.
Mastery grading relies on tests and quizzes, forcing students to fully grasp class material. The good news is that teachers learned this month that smaller assessments, which sound like the old categories of classwork and homework, should be factored into each quarter’s grades. These should help students get the grades they feel they deserve. Also promising: teachers have been asked to map out a progression of skills and knowledge this quarter, ensuring enough points to measure progress fairly.
Grades aside, the redoing of assignments seems a genuine attempt to help students actually understand content and demonstrate prowess. But endless redoing is no answer. Students must invest time in non-graded (formative) assignments whether assigned for completion at home or during class. These may not affect averages directly, but they act as a barometer that guides instruction. Students who blow them off will struggle.
The school board needs to take ownership of its messy implementation of mastery grading. Dropping this on teachers their first day back to school in August rightfully drew ire from one anonymous teacher taking the Griffin’s voluntary survey.
“I like the policy, but I think the rollout was awful,” the teacher said.
“More information needed to be shared with parents and students prior to implementation,” another anonymous teacher said.
When superintendent Dallas Dance fielded questions from Griffin reporters last year, he said that the new policy would take “a good three to five years” before becoming consistent, and that students could expect “some small changes” over the next year. Now, this seems disingenuous at best.
The lack of clear, uniform information has led to disparate enforcement of the new policy. Anecdotal evidence shows there are still teachers who issue only tests even as others are offering smaller summative assignments that improve learning and class averages. That’s not fair.
As with so many concerns, communication is a key. The 147 calls and emails to the office certainly prove this is true.