George Lucas Educational Foundation

Grading for Mastery

Grading for Mastery

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Best class my daughter ever had was a math teacher who created "Judo Math". It went something like this: There was a white silicon wrist band given at the beginning. After the first lesson and subsequent worksheets, the kids took a test. If they passed with 8/10, they moved on to yellow belt (yellow wrist band). If they did not pass they could keep trying until they could pass 8/10. There were usually 10 problems on a worksheet (not 40!) After yellow belt, anyone could advance themselves by taking the initiative and learning on their own, or there would be a new lesson every few weeks. I think it was yellow, orange, black and green (Sensei). Once you reached green, you went back and helped the other kids who were having problems. There were four math sections where you could earn up to the green belt within a certain time frame. The goal was to get everyone to orange in each section, at the very least. Homework didn't count for anything except to help you get to the next level. Kids did homework because they wanted to move up and get another band! My daughter hit green every time and has been advanced in all subsequent math classes (she and a few others have special assignments). No one ever has to fail unless they just do not understand the concepts at all or refuse to work. This grade level gets a 41% advanced score and 33% proficient on standardized tests, in an area where 14% advanced is considered high. I thought I'd share the idea. It actually shows mastery in a tangible way to the students.

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David Wees's picture
David Wees
Formative Assessment Specialist for New Visions for Public Schools

One thing I really like about this system is that it assumes that more practice makes you better at mathematics, rather than assuming that one requires intelligence. It helps promote a growth mindset (See Carol Dweck's work) instead of a fixed mindset.

Many people are using something they call Standard's Based Grading (SBG), which is a more formalized version of the (from the teacher's perspective anyway) framework for assessment than what you've suggested.

Nancy Kline's picture
Nancy Kline
8th grade English/Language Arts teacher from Lenore, West Virginia

I love this idea, I work with 8th graders and I believe I will try this concept in my classroom. Thanks

ElemMusicTeach's picture
Elementary Music Teacher, PEI, Canada

I teach elementary music and use a "recorder karate" program which sounds very similar in set-up. As the students progress through the "belt pieces" they earn different coloured belts that can be tied around the base of their recorder. The students go crazy over these little pieces of wool! I offer time during lessons, and at recesses for students to earn their belts. When they are in at recess they are often lined up around my room.

This is an excellent program as students often find recorder difficult and frustrating. However, the formative assessment in this program coupled with the reward of the belt make it almost addictive on the part of the student. Students who would normally let their recorder collect dust in their bags are practicing to try and get the next belt.

Now, how do I apply this to singing?! :)

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