Each year, more schools begin the journey to a personalized, mastery-based system. They do so because the traditional education model needs updating to align with the research on learning. It needs updating to prepare students for today’s rapidly changing world. Educators are redesigning schools to motivate and engage students; to help them build the mindsets and traits to be powerful learners; and to develop the full spectrum of knowledge and skills they need to take advantage of challenges and opportunities they will encounter throughout their lives.
In 2019, I visited five member schools of the Mastery Transcript Consortium® (MTC) to find out what mastery learning means to them and how they are implementing it. Some of the schools are long-standing breaking out of traditional models; some are brand new schools borne from the desire to shift the educational paradigm. Some are independent and some public. Some are in the early stages of implementation, while some are well-developed. Some serve highly homogenous, relatively wealthy, educated communities, and one is diverse by design.
Schools use different terms to describe their learning models. For example, Champlain Valley Union High School (CVU) has developed standards-based learning, while Singapore American School (SAS) refers to personalizing learning. Schools are also developing mastery learning in different ways depending on whether they have already made the shift to using standards to align instruction, assessment, and grading. At Tilton School, the mastery approach aims to help students develop five essential skills—communication, critical thinking and decision making, creative engagement, innovation and design thinking and mindfulness—to enhance standards-based instruction, whereas at Northern Cass School District #97, mastery learning (referred to as personalized learning) is their core instructional approach. Regardless of whether mastery learning is an enhancement or an overarching model, all the schools are redesigning so that students are engaged and motivated, have opportunities to apply what they are learning, and discover their potential.
Each school had different starting points on the road to mastery learning. No two stories were alike. Despite this, they landed in remarkably similar places of what it means to personalize learning and design schools around mastery. Common features include:
Using the The Journey Towards Mastery Learning (pdf), framework, this paper builds on the case studies of five MTC member schools to highlight how each school is designing a mastery learning system. There is no one model of mastery learning, nor is there one roll-out strategy. Each school has designed and implemented in ways that make sense for them based on leadership, capacity, and opportunity. Each school continues to hone their model as they learn about what works for students.
Wherever your school finds itself on the Journey to Mastery Learning, we encourage all schools to use this synthesis (PDF) and each corresponding Case Study as opportunities for whole-school reflection on your own journey to mastery learning and the Mastery Transcript™.