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How do you feel about mastery programs?

November 11, 2019

I just finished reading an article about Rocky Mountain Middle School in Idaho Falls. RMMS is one of a few dozen schools in Idaho that is using state funds to pilot an education mastery program. Mastery learning allows students to learn at their own pace, with the goal of mastering a subject before moving on. The students work independently from laptops and have the opportunity to attend lessons, work in groups or request teacher assistance when needed.

Mastery learning makes sense, especially for subjects like math, foreign language and science. If a student doesn’t fully understand basic vocabulary, concepts, formulas or theories, how can they be expected to build on them?

I have noticed this dilemma with my own children. When my son began high school he loved math. He was placed in an honors course, but struggled with the teacher’s teaching style. He worked hard, but didn’t get the help he needed and was not able to gain a confident grasp of the subject matter. The following year, he switched to math II (not honors). He did a little better, but was not able to regain his love and mastery of math. By his junior year, math was admittedly his least favorite subject. He was resigned to the belief that he was bad at math. Now that he is a senior, he is taking calculus. It is his least favorite subject and he has lost all desire to pursue any career involving math.

I had a similar experience when I was in high school. I took three years of Spanish. I excelled in my first year, began to struggle my second year, and by my third year I felt like I was in the wrong class. I’m sure these two experiences are not unique.

Students need to have a solid understanding of complex subject matters before moving on. They may even need tutoring, peer assistance or new teaching styles to help them master ideas and concepts. No one benefits from moving a student to a more complex subject without understanding the basics.

Are your children involved in one of the 32 schools across the state implementing the mastery program? How do you feel about mastery learning?