Mastery-Based Systems

Most schools currently operate around time-based structures for credit. These schools adhere to the traditional six-hour school day and nine-month school year. Students are grouped in grade levels mostly by age, learn through discipline-specific courses, and are assessed by standardized tests.

But to any globally minded teacher, it quickly becomes obvious that traditional assessment practices—both classroom-based and large-scale measures—are inadequate to either support or measure the complex mix of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that comprise Global Competence.

What do grades really measure?

That a student has spent a certain amount of time in a course? How much homework they completed? How hard they tried? What do grades really tell us about how prepared our students are for the global innovation age?

Learning doesn’t just happen in classrooms

Furthermore, we’re all constantly learning. Traditional grading systems are unable to capture much of the learning that happens outside classrooms and beyond school walls. Learning doesn’t stop at the classroom door – and neither should credit for that learning.

Students learn at different paces

Utilizing a mastery-based system can allow students who have achieved proficiency to move ahead when they’re ready, while those who have not yet mastered a competency can continue to learn. Within a mastery system, a student can learn at his/her own pace. They apply and demonstrate their learning in order to truly master the content.

But how can schools actually provide this type of mastery education?

Our GPS can lead schools towards mastery

In response, schools in Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network are implementing the Graduation Performance System (GPS). GPS supports teachers to design project-based learning experiences and implement performance-based assessment tasks that guide students towards the development and demonstration of global competence.

When a performance-based assessment system like GPS is implemented across subject areas and grade levels, schools can more easily ensure that students are meeting proficiency in Common Core, state, and/or district standards as well as the real-world competencies that students need to be successful in the global innovation age. Schools can use GPS as a framework to integrate community partners and “anywhere, anytime” learning experiences to expand student knowledge and skills. And, ultimately, GPS can provide the foundation for a competency based system that awards credit based on demonstrated proficiency.

It’s a difficult change to make, but with the right district and leadership support and teacher engagement, GPS performance based assessment practices in the classroom can lead to mastery based practices and policies school wide. We are working closely with three ISSN schools in Denver and Houston to begin to establish GPS as a system for mastery learning, proficiency based credit, and credit-bearing anyplace/anytime learning. We are embedding mastery-based approaches in our GPS leader resources, teacher professional development, and example curriculum tools.

Starting in 2014, we will be sharing results, lessons learned, and suggested policy changes that are emerging from this work. We hope to capture these results in tools that other districts, schools, and educators can utilize as they think about ways to establish GPS as a mastery-based system.