- In New York City, one of the nation’s most segregated school systems, 37 schools have turned to mastery-based education because the model's emphasis on feedback and revision seems well-suited to the challenge of improving equity in a diverse population, according to the Hechinger Report.
- A Hechinger Report analysis of Department of Education data indicated that 29 of the 37 schools “either meet the city’s current standard of a racially representative school or reflect (within five percentage points) their borough’s demographic makeup for at least two ethnic groups,” and schools like the Urban Assembly Maker Academy have seen 90% graduation rates and above-citywide-average college readiness rates.
- There are critics within the system, however, who say the approach is a “paradigm-shift” for many educators and who feel that other educational methods can also create a culturally responsive learning environment with the right effort.
Mastery-based education is catching on in many schools across the nation because it is a more personalized approach to learning that allows students to master concepts at their own pace. For schools wanting to address equity issues in a diverse setting, the model also allows students to have more control over their learning since they are essentially competing with themselves rather than with other students who may have academic advantages not available to them.
While mastery-based learning has a broad appeal because of its individualized approach, the main concern for most students, parents and educators has been the method of assessing knowledge. Most states and school districts are set up to measure student success by some type of achievement tests, even though these tests often don’t accurately reflect student knowledge, don’t account for diversity, and don’t allow students to learn from the experience. Mastery-based learning takes a more personal approach to assessments, though these assessment methods may vary.
New approaches to teaching and assessment require time and strong support structures to implement, as seen with the work of New York City's Mastery Collaborative, which places a strong culturally-responsive educational focus on the model. While mastery-based learning requires a shift in mindset on the part of teachers, it also allows students to learn and grow from failure rather than being halted by it. Assessment opportunities in mastery-based learning provide opportunities for feedback, revision and future growth — which is ideally a goal of all educational approaches, regardless of whether it works out in practice.
However, this approach does require more work and intervention on the part of teachers during the assessment process. In the end, this interaction between teachers and students often helps build relationships and provide opportunities for more personalized instruction than some other methods of education. While the approach may not work for all students in all schools, a growing number of states are making room for mastery-based approaches in their educational frameworks.