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School-wide Systems

Systems and structures established for the whole school as laid out in the Framework for Mastery Implementation

  • Shared school-wide philosophy and belief in core principles of mastery

    This is the single most important element in the framework. A school’s purpose and vision is the engine that moves the school through the mastery shift. It’s crucial to have a solid philosophy that unifies, focuses, and inspires the shift to mastery.

  • Grading policy (including transparent system for calculating grades)

    As schools move toward greater precision and transparency in tracking learning processes, they work to be clear and equitable in grading practice and policies.

  • Meeting and planning structures conducive to collaboration and innovation

    There is no substitute for the ongoing investment in time to make well-informed decisions; build shared understanding across a staff; design a system of outcomes that are aligned to standards, are coherent across disciplines, and that backmap vertically from expectations baked into mastery in the uppermost grade down to the lowest; collaborate on must-haves such as: rubrics, grading policies, project-based curriculum; choose and set up a tracking system; create resources and practices for communicating with students and families, and so on—regular meetings are the lifeblood of a high-functioning mastery system. Yes, it’s a ton of work—but if you’re not working this extensively to meet students where they are and making solid plans for getting them to success—then what are your meetings about?

  • Normed language, use of mastery-based supporting visuals, progress reports, etc.

    You can call your school’s system mastery-based, competency-based, or proficiency-based—these terms are basically synonyms. Some call this approach

    standards-based; we don’t dictate how to proceed on this, but we do suggest staying away from the term "standards-based grading," because this term is sometimes used to describe a regimented, assessment-heavy approach that is substantially different from what our community espouses.

    Learning goals, objectives, targets, outcomes, competencies, proficiencies, attainments—these are also all basically synonyms. Chris Sturgis of advises practitioners to choose language that makes sense to stakeholders (educators, students, families), and not getting hung up about nomenclature—we like this suggestion and share it with schools frequently.

  • Student progress is tracked across time (online or paper system) with 24/7 availability to students, families

    The driving force of a mastery-based system is shared understanding between learner and teacher about what goals are in play, and where each student is on the path toward mastery. Because tracking progress is vitally important for pinpointing coaching and feedback, many schools use a digital platform to make granular data about progress and mastery available 24/7 to students, teachers, school leaders, families, guidance counselors, and advisors. Tracking can be done on paper—and whether digital or on paper, its purpose is to enrich coaching and feedback for the learner. An online grading platform never runs the show—in fact, the schools we know customize the digital tracking systems they use to align to their grading policies and practices. It’s also worth pointing out that in this day and age, all schools in NYC are required to report grades digitally. If grades are being collected digitally, it makes good sense to us to share them with students and families, and to structure progress reporting to be actionable and visually clear.

  • Shared understanding of DOE policies and possibilities related to mastery

    NYC Department of Education's Office of Academic Policy has a mastery-based grading policy that contains a checklist for creating a clear, fair, useful, and equitable grading policy. Well-versed mastery practitioners are able to see both requirements and possibilities inherent in the checklist. Schools have latitude in choice of grading scale (0-100? 1.0-4.0?, what is graded (just discipline-specific outcomes? Also 21st Century skills? etc.). We also support schools in ensuring that each learner can move at her or his own pace, and still earn credits in accordance with State policy.

  • Culture of iteration and improvement toward greater clarity, effectiveness, and efficiency

    The move to a mastery-based system can happen in a single year—we’ve seen this unfold successfully in several schools. However, once they are in the game, schools keep innovating and perfecting their system, years into making the shift. Why? Once you undertake the work of making learning and grading clear to everyone involved, there are always myriad aspects to improve—and the need for tweaks often becomes apparent only when practitioners have fine-tuned the system enough to get to more subtle aspects of maximizing coherency and clarity. This years-long, ongoing process requires great trust, excellent team-wide communication skills, genuinely distributive leadership, and deep/sustained commitment to the cause, with adults in a school building acting as a team for students’ benefit.