• Sara Needleman

Mastery-Based Research

Recently one active JumpRope user asked, "Is there any current research on mastery-based grading that you know of? It is one of the most common requests I get from other teachers, but I don't know where to look."

Since nearly everything on the topic of mastery-based practice gets us whipped up around here, we were excited to get this question. And as teachers, we know that if one student (or JumpRope user) has a question, it is likely that others out there have the same. Given that premise, we thought it made sense to share our response with all of you who read this blog. Here is our reply, plus a little more.

A great person to start with when it comes to research on mastery-based grading is Thomas Guskey. Guskey co-authored an article with Eric M. Anderman titled In Search of a Useful Definition of Mastery in the latest edition of Educational Leadership. This article really resonates with me as they indicate the reasons why a mastery-based system works for kids. They point out that mastery-based learning actually acts as a motivator to students. Citing other colleagues, they state, "students who focus on mastery are more likely to persist at academic tasks, particularly challenging ones (Harackiewicz, Barron, Tauer, Carter, Elliot, 2000). They use more effective self-regulatory and metacognitive strategies (Wolters, 2004)." Regardless of the hat I’m wearing, (mom to a 7th grader and 3rd grader or former middle school teacher and current teacher educator), these are traits I aim to nurture in kids.

An earlier Guskey article on Mastery Learning, published in 2009, leans heavily on the work of Benjamin Bloom. Guskey reminds us that even fifty years ago, Bloom noted in effective classrooms the use of clear objectives, formative feedback, and opportunities for students to revisit concepts not yet mastered. Guskey states, "When compared to traditionally taught classes, students in mastery learning classes consistently have been shown to learn better, reach higher levels of achievement, and develop greater confidence in their ability to learn and in themselves as learners (Guskey, 1997, 2001)."

In addition to the above, take a look at this overview of a webinar on the perceived and varied purposes of grading and current research on the general practice of grading. The webinar was conducted by the Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance at the REL Northeast and Islands.

For a local, school-based perspective, see this paper written by teacher Eric Phillips from Vermont’s Canaan Schools. And, lastly, for those of you looking for books to add to your holiday wish list, here are a few of our favorites:

Now, what research did we miss that’s been important to you and your colleagues?

All the best to you this holiday season!

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