If you read the story about the Wilder School District implementing a mastery-based education model and learned what it entails, you may have asked yourself, “Well, isn’t that what schools are supposed to have been doing all along?”
The rural school district with approximately 470 students will be the first in Canyon County to adopt the new system, and in layman’s terms, it basically means all students must demonstrate proficiency in all assignments and courses before they move on in their education.
Hence the reaction referenced above. Yes, it seems like a logical goal, one you would think schools should have had all along.
What makes the model somewhat different is that it will allow for more individualized learning experiences for the students. Rather than telling them all to turn to a specific page and study a specific lesson, each student will concentrate on his or her lesson in whatever the subject may be and not be concerned about the next one until the topic at hand has been completed.
It sounds good in theory, and a small district like Wilder is a good place to experiment with new approaches like this one. We wish the students and teachers the best this year.
However, there are reasons for district patrons to temper their expectations. The more students who are in different levels of their education, the more work there is for teachers to keep track of which students are where in their studies. Say what you will about the “everybody turn to page 102” method, but at least that way the teacher could concentrate on one lesson at a time. With some students working on a math assignment and some working on an English lesson and some farther ahead than others, you can see how much more challenging it will be for a classroom teacher to keep up with it all.
For years, under the much-maligned No Child Left Behind law, schools were required to meet adequate yearly progress goals. For example, about 85 percent of students had to be proficient in reading, 83 percent in math, etc. Students who attended schools that repeatedly failed to meet the AYP goals were allowed to transfer to other schools.
That requirement put pressure on teachers to focus much of their efforts on students who were on the borderline, leaving higher-performing students often feeling bored and unchallenged. That’s not the best way to run a school.
Is there a risk with this mastery-based model that the same thing could happen? Teachers have so many students in so many different places that the ones who are struggling get all of the teacher’s attention, and the higher-performing ones get “left behind?” Let’s hope not.