There are several different methods available for grading a student and gauging success. One system of grading uses the numerical scale, which is usually translated into a letter grade. Other methods can include a pass/fail option, or a method which uses percentages. One final method of grading is "mastery grading." This method is similar to pass/fail, with a few alterations. Grading for mastery is common in homeschooling, but some public and private schools, such as Corona Foothills Middle School in Arizona, have also adopted the mastery level grading methodology.
Mastery level grading includes measuring whether or not a student has mastered a specific subject. Whether or not a student has mastered the area of study is dependent upon prespecified qualifications. Students who have mastered a subject receive an "M" as opposed to an "A" or "B." Students who do not meet the curriculum's standards get an "F." Unlike other grading systems, students who do not meet the mastery level have several other chances to achieve the mastery level. A driving force of the mastery grading system is the concept that it doesn't matter when a student achieves the "M," only that it happens.
Mastery learning is not a new concept and was first introduced to American public schools in the 1920s. Mastery learning was extremely popular throughout the 1920s, but interest slowly began to decline. In the 1950s. Some educators attempted to bring mastery level grading back by providing students with the opportunity to move at an individualized pace. During the 1960s, the mastery philosophy was examined and perfected by proponents of mastery level grading.
One major advantage of grading students at a mastery level is that slower students are not penalized for learning at a different pace than gifted students. By providing the student with many attempts at maintaining the mastery level, confidence is built and stress is taken away. Another advantage to providing students with second chances is that the student becomes more self-invested and is able to examine the material previously unmastered. Students become aware of what is being taught and can hone self-discipline.
The biggest disadvantage to mastery level learning is the amount of time it may take. While allowing students more than one chance to understand a concept is advantageous for the student, it can be detrimental to other students who have already mastered the concept and are ready to move on. Time is already limited for most educators and it may take longer to move on to a new idea if some students are still trying to master the previous one. Another disadvantage to this grading method is that many students will simply memorize the material to achieve an "M" and then forget it the next day. However, this same disadvantage can be applied to other grading systems as well.
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