Mastery bill advances to House floor

The House Education Committee advanced a bill Monday to move students through the state’s education system based on subject mastery.

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Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian

Committee members approved a bill to create a $400,000 pilot program to study moving to a mastery-based system of education.

For 2016-17, 20 school districts or charter schools would serve as “incubators,” developing a model to advance students between classes and grades based on mastering course content – not simply completing an academic year.

A mastery-based system of education was one recommendation issued unanimously in 2013 by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

“We’ve seen the factory style of education for a long time,” said sponsoring Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian. “Sometimes people complain about widgets going through the system.”

Harris argues that by moving to mastery, student achievement would come to the forefront because students would receive more personalized education and advance at their own pace.

But the move to mastery entails a “dramatic change” in the education system. It could require teachers, administrators, lawmakers, students and parents to reconsider their notions of classes and grades, Harris said. Everything from graduation requirements, bell and class schedules, the funding formula and testing procedures may need to be reformed.

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Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth

Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby, superintendent of the New Plymouth School District, said he strongly supports the move. But during debate, Kerby questioned whether all school districts are in a position to make the move.

Lawmakers questioned how the state would measure student mastery. Kerby, in particular, emphasized that districts would need to strengthen their testing system to incorporate a series of “well-written” assessments to gauge student mastery.

“The area that we have that is the weakest part of the education system we have right now is the assessment system, particularly in the 90 districts that don’t have curriculum directors,” Kerby said. “We’re a long, long ways from having any kind of decent assessment system.”

Other lawmakers, including Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, questioned whether the state will pay for adequate professional development to support educators in the transition.

Harris replied that the point of the incubator is to study what the move entails and develop recommendations for a statewide model.

Idaho School Boards Association officials backed the bill, calling it a good first step to moving to mastery. After the hearing, Idaho Education Association Executive Director Robin Nettinga said her organization has backed the plan since being represented on the task force, and did not feel the need to testify.

Harris’ bill also calls for creating a statewide mastery awareness campaign and establishes a committee of educators to study the roadblocks and solutions associated with a move.

Otter included $400,000 in his budget for a mastery pilot program, while first-year Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra did not.

House Bill 110 next heads to the House floor for consideration.

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