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When standardized testing resumed after a two-year hiatus at Compass Community Collaborative School (grades 6-12), the scores were higher, much higher than before the pandemic. The school’s Executive Director, Jan Harrison, and her colleagues were not all that surprised with these encouraging data. After only a few years of implementing the school’s mastery-based learning program, and even with the COVID disruptions, the students had dramatically improved in many dimensions, including moving from “not there yet” to “exceeds” on standardized tests.
Opened in 2018, Compass is a tuition-free charter school with 174 students in Fort Collins, Colorado. The program is fully mastery-based (also known as competency or proficiency-based learning) and engages all students in practicing and developing a wide skill set through deep-dive academic classes, regular SEL instruction in Advisory classes, community-engaged project based learning, and internships. Learners regularly receive feedback to guide them in revising and ultimately exhibiting their work. Every student is known well as an individual: almost a quarter have learning disabilities and another quarter have advanced learning plans. Moreover, each student is taking on increasing responsibility for designing and personalizing their own learning experiences.
The Compass team attributes the significant and remarkable pivot in standardized testing outcomes to three things:
MTC was founded on the belief that mastery-based learning is an effective means for ensuring all students get the level of support and challenge they need to learn and grow intellectually and personally. As an MTC member, Compass prepares its students for future schooling and career development along varied post-graduation pathways, including through use of the Mastery Transcript. The Compass experience demonstrates that if students face standardized tests in the future, they will be confident in tackling those too.
Simply, mastery learning works: students are better prepared for college, career, citizenship and standardized tests too.