Developing mastery rubrics 

Developing mastery rubrics provides teachers an opportunity to get really clear about what it means and looks like for students to meet, not yet meet, or exceed expectations on a learning outcome. In Social Studies, what specifically does it mean to analyze a text? In ELA, what does it mean? Often, teachers develop rubrics together, paying special attention to where transferable skills fall in departments, and where differences lie. Clear rubrics increase transparency to students, which increases equity, and gives all students a path to success.

A best practice for a mastery-based learning environment is to create rubrics with students, in order to build genuine shared understanding. Another useful practice is to invite students to use a highlighter to mark language they understand completely—it can be surprising to see how much of a carefully detailed rubric is not comprehensible to students.

Formative versus summative rubrics 

Many teachers use the same rubric for both formative and summative assessments. Furthermore, students may only be assessed on certain aspects of the rubric for each assignment. It may be that for the same piece of “evidence” (or assignment) various students are being assessed on different rows of the rubric, based on what they’ve mastered in the past. This is a way to individualize grading and mastery without increasing teacher workload. This method may also allow students greater levels of autonomy (and greater levels of engagement) by inviting student input on which skill(s) they believe are ready to demonstrate mastery. 

Using consistent rubrics across assessments 

Using a single rubric over time to track progress on learning outcomes can foster student metacognition about progress, and allows teachers to track their students; points of growth and existing strengths. 

Viraj Desai, a teacher at KAPPA International High School, a Mastery Collaborative Living Lab school, has decided to implement a feedback tracker for his students to understand their progress across time: 

“This spring, I had a realization: I needed to provide continuity in my feedback to students about their skills. Until then, each piece of feedback from different prompts seemed to stand alone with no carryover for what each student did well and poorly. For the upcoming year, I have created a feedback tracker for students to keep in their binders. Now, each time they get writing feedback, they can continue to build on their positive work and improve where they show patterns of gaps. I am excited about this year, because I am hopeful that when students are able to track feedback they get on a specific learning outcome over time, we will see the growth in writing skills that we have been seeking.
The beauty of a mastery-based approach to learning is that it is an open door where students can keep growing regardless of their incoming level. My students and I are all trying to reach mastery. There are challenges, such as what exactly mastery looks like from grade to grade, from teacher to teacher, and from class to class. However, my colleagues at KAPPA International High School and I know this is a meaningful shift, so much so that we are proud to continue searching for the answers and continue this work.”