Why we need to adopt a mastery-based system in our schools

Most schools around the world tend to focus on quantity over quality.When you try to cram a set syllabus inside of a set period, you get variable results – which means that throughout a class, you will find students with varying degrees of understanding of the concept.

Exams can be really meaningful if used properly.
Even when the class topper scores 95%, it means that there is a 5% gap in their understanding of the concept.
Unfortunately, no school in the world sits with the student and tries to fill that gap.

We just continue with the next chapter in our syllabus.

What happens to other students who have gaps of 10%, 15% or even 50% in their understanding of the concepts?
We keep building layers of knowledge over extremely shaky foundations.

Can you think of any other place in this world where such a process is followed?
Imagine if we built buildings like this.

How does a mastery-based system work?

In a mastery-based system, students do not progress to the next concept until they have mastered a previous, base concept.Because, different students take different amounts of time to learn a concept, a mastery-based system is generally a self-paced system.
It is also a no-one-size-fits-all system as different students may grasp concepts using different material.

At Flourish, we use cutting edge tools (one of which is Khan Academy) which track the progress of students while they work on a concept.
These tools are adaptive and the students are assessed as they work through the examples and challenges.

The guides offer students a variety of materials (books, videos, applications, tutorials, etc.) depending on what works best for which student.

During the interactive assessment, the examples change in variety and difficulty as students progress and only once the students get a 100% on the assessment of the concept, can they move ahead to the next concept.

The adaptive nature of the tools ensures that students who know the concept well are not bored by repetitive, easy questions and at the same time, students who are still understanding the concept, are not presented with challenging questions immediately – which would affect their confidence.

Students learn quickly that everyone learns at their own pace. There is no shame in taking longer than others and helping peers understand a concept, is the best way to solidify the concept in your head.

Of course, in a mastery-based system like ours, we may not be able to cover the breadth of the curriculum that traditional schools aim to cover – but our students tend to be experts of whatever they have studied and if something takes their fancy, based on the solid foundations they have and a growth mindset, they can soar as high and as fast as they like.

Hence, it is not uncommon for a fifth-grader at an Acton academy to be solving eight or ninth grade math or science problems of our traditional schools.

With anything worth doing, it does take time and perseverance – but the results are generally phenomenal.

Here is what one of the founders of our partner school says about mastery:

We are not a traditional school that will pass your child to the next grade level with a 70%. We require mastery, which yes, is very challenging. Mastery takes time, patience, struggle and a lot of failures. We want to focus more on the process of learning and not the badges themselves.  We need to come back to the why with the parents and the Eagles. It’s really easy to get caught up in marks, points, and badges and forget about the real reason they are here and the joy in the actual learning. No matter what the program is, mastery is hard. It is really really hard. They will find the same type of struggle no matter what. We recognize that nothing that we offer is perfect, no program is, but we believe it is a lot better than what you get in traditional school. There is so much to be gained from mastering a concept that is difficult…but the benefits of that process are only gained for the learner if we let the struggle happen and continue to support but step back as they figure it out on their own.

– Kristina Baucom (Acton Academy Waco)