State Board calls for mastery system pilot

The State Board of Education continued the push Friday to fundamentally change how Idaho’s students advance through the school system.

Board members unanimously recommended the Legislature fund a pilot program to help districts create a mastery-based education model.

Oct. 3 State Board
State Board of Education members debate reform proposals Friday in Boise.

This was among 23 initiatives endorsed by the board, in an effort to implement the recommendations issued last summer by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

Under a mastery-based model, students would no longer advance to a new unit of study or a new grade level based on seat time and receiving passing grades. Instead, they would move on after demonstrating they have mastered a subject or grade level.

Details have not been attached to the proposal, but the move could represent a fundamental shift in the way the state educates students. It would continue to lay the foundation for students to advance at their own speed – either faster or slower than their peers.

Such a move could also have implications for school funding, since average daily attendance is a cornerstone of Idaho’s complex school funding formula.

State Superintendent Tom Luna voted for the recommendation Friday, but said implementing the plan could require districts to reconfigure calendars, bell schedules and reconsider whether students are divided by age groups or ability levels.

“All of them, all 20 of the (original) task force recommendations together are critical, but this one is probably the one that will make school look the most different from the outside looking in,” Luna said.

The board will ask the Legislature to fund a pilot program to encourage districts to develop their own mastery models. Board members will also ask lawmakers to fund professional development training to assist school districts in implementing the moves and steer federal grants towards those districts for extra assistance.

The State Board passed a rule about three years ago allowing districts to award credits based on a mastery system, but few if any districts have moved that direction, Luna said.

“One thing that became abundantly clear is it’s easier said than done,” he said.

Other recommendations issued Friday include:

  • Streamlining advanced student opportunities by removing the 10 percent participation cap for school districts and public charter schools on the 8 in 6 accelerated program, removing the 8 in 6 program’s online course requirement and eliminating the 25 percent co-pay on the Fast Forward program’s $200 and $400 scholarships.
  • Emphasizing career counseling to help students meet the state’s 60 percent go-on goal.
  • Revisiting and overhauling the five-star rating system that has been used as an accountability program for schools. Board members backed a plan to score schools on two factors – students’ readiness to continue their education after high school graduation and year-over-year improvement of readiness levels.
  • Calling on the state to expedite its plans to provide broadband access to all schools, not just high schools.
  • Discontinuing the technology pilot grant program.
  • Increasing the school year by three days to allow for extra job-embedded paid time for professional development training.

The complete recommendations are available online and are contained in tab one, pages five through seven.

Many of Friday’s recommendations will be forwarded to the Legislature or considered one at a time by the State Board for implementation.