What's mastery?

In the world of Common Core, we have to shift our thinking to mastery and what it looks like as we move through core. Everyone has there own definition of mastery. Which makes it hard to figure out how mastery is defined.

Determining what's acceptable evidence of mastery is key.  It's not enough to simply identify what knowledge and skills are essential. You have to determine what evidence will show that students have  mastered the essential knowledge and skills.  If not, how will you know if they have mastered the information???

Robyn Jackson (Never Work Harder than Your Students), points out that to figure out what mastery is to ask two questions:
1) What will students be able to do? 
Meaning you have to look at your core curriculum and determine what is the essential content and  processes that students need to know. 

2) What criteria you judge this demonstration of mastery?

Example might be: students correctly multiply fractions 80% of the time; correctly identify 45 of the 50 states; or correctly answer 75% of the reading questions on a novel.

There is no answer to this question. A lot of this boils down to your end of the year testing. It also depends on your stated learning goals.  Once you have determined the criteria for mastery, you can determine what summative assessment will best reveal this mastery.

The key elements in mastery learning are:
  • Clearly specifying what is to be learned and how it will evaluated
  • Allowing students to learn at their own pace
  • Assessing student progress and providing appropriate feedback or remediation
  • Testing that final learning criterion has been achieved
In fact, the end of the unit or summative assessment should be planned first. That's right before you even plan your lessons. If you use Backwards Planning, you know that it's the easy way to make sure students will master your objectives. The summative assessment should only test the need to know things that you have to cover. I give mine as a pre and post test. It helps me know if they have mastered the material. On last note, all students are held to the same standards. Differentiation is not about having different standards for different students. One set of standards and the how you present, teach, and support your students is differentiated. How do you define mastery?


  1. Luckily my school has been doing a program called "mastery" forever. In fact it has been around since I was in 8th grade. I will say I am WORRIED about my 8th grade resource class. 8th grade pre-algebra looks a lot more like algebra 1. Ekkk!
    Special Teaching in the Middle

  2. Great ideas. Thanks for this thoughtful post.


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