What is mastery?
Mastery-based learning in a K-12 setting requires us to think of mastery in two ways:
  • Mastery as successfully demonstrating the skills and knowledge of one performance level, thus showing readiness to advance to the next level
  • Mastery as achieving "expert" level skill and knowledge in a particular area that is recognized in professional settings
In our K-12 context, we use the term "mastery" in the first sense: as demonstrating readiness to advance. Specifically, we define mastery as the ability to successfully apply the skills and knowledge (demonstrating "proficiency" or higher) in multiple times and in multiple ways. 

How do students demonstrate mastery?
In our model, assessing mastery requires a few key tools: continua, performance-based assessments ("performance tasks"), and evidence requirements. Continua are scoring guides that help us identify what "proficiency" looks like at each grade level. Performance tasks provide the opportunity for students to demonstrate how well they can apply their skills and knowledge to real-world problems. Evidence requirements sets the expectation for how many times a student must demonstrate proficiency or higher in order to show mastery, earn credit for their competencies, and advance to the next level.

When teachers review and score students' performance tasks, instead of giving the assignment a grade, they give competency ratings.  Specifically, each standard of a competency is given a rating based on the performance level that it matches as described in the continua.  A student has demonstrated mastery of a competency at a particular level when they meet three criteria:
  • The "competency average" - defined as the average of all standard ratings for the competency - meets the minimum "course competency average"  (CCA) requirement. All CCA requirements are provided here for all course competencies.
  • The work meets the Minimum Rating Rule, which states that no standards of any competency are rated two levels below the grade level of the course at the time of the completion of the course.
  • All evidence requirements are met for each competency.
What does mastery look like, exactly?
In the example below, this ninth grade student has demonstrated mastery at a ninth grade level of competency ELA.1, "Reading Literature" because she has fulfilled all evidence requirements, her competency score meets the minimum course competency average of 8.50 for English I, AND no ratings are two grade levels below Level 9 (the grade level associated with English I).

For a deeper look at how student work is scored, visit Scoring Tasks.  

To explore our protocols for converting competencies to grades, visit Calculating Grades and see our "Course Competency Average (CCA) To Grade Conversion Chart."

What does "proficiency" mean?
In our model, "proficiency" means that an individual performance is on grade level; in other words, the performance meets the grade level expectation as described on the continua.  Note the difference? "Proficiency" describes a single performance or demonstration that is on grade level; mastery describes multiple demonstrations of work that are proficient or higher.  For an eighth grade student, proficient work is described in the "Level 8" performance level descriptor on the continua.  For a tenth grade student, proficient work is described in the "Level 10" performance level descriptor on the continua.

You will notice that there are no "Level 9" or "Level 11" descriptors on the continua.  Here's how it works: Level 9 means that a student has met all of the criteria described in "Level 8" and shows substantial progress toward "Level 10" work that is evidenced in the student performance task.  There are three key reasons we structured the continua in this way:
  • All of the standard sets on which our competencies are based (Common Core, Next Generation Science, C3 Framework, etc) shift from individual grade level descriptors in K - 8 standards to grade level "bands" in high school: either a "9-10" band (e.g. Common Core) or a "9-12" band (e.g. Next Gen Science, C3 Framework).  Our structure mirrors this structure.
  • Attempting to create new language between these grade level bands has been described to us by some experts in the field as "dancing on the head of a pin." And after much consideration, we agreed. We trust our educators to use the language that is provided in the continua, evidence from students' work, and their smarts and discretion to help students identify where they are on the continuum and what they need to do to progress forward.
  • Learning is not always linear, and diverse learners make growth and gains in diverse ways.  Leaving the language "open" between high school grade levels allows for more flexibility in how students progress, in how quickly they progress, and in what specific skill sets or understandings they develop when.  There's no scripting this process - so we will err on the side of honoring our diverse learners and their unique learning pathways.  
This "learning is not always linear" line of reasoning is also the rationale for our grade calculation protocol, where students are permitted to have some work at one grade level behind and still earn credit for a course (note that 0% of work can be two grade levels behind).  Interested in digging deeper?  Explore our Scoring Rules and Grade Calculation Guidelines and Protocols.