Webinar: The Journey to Mastery Based Learning at Staten Island Technical High School

Staten Island Technical High School in New York City has long enjoyed strong standardized test performance and top national rankings. By the end of the 2014-2015 school year, however, the school was confronted with an alarming trend.

A combination of feedback and LMS data showed increasing rates of lateness, absenteeism, grade obsession, fatigue, missing homework, academic dishonesty, and health concerns over the preceding two years. This combination of factors, which can accompany the academic culture of a competitive and rigorous high school, put their community at a perplexing crossroads around the significant and oftentimes hidden costs of student stress.

In looking at their data, the Staten Island Tech team identified that they needed to find better ways to accomplish the following:

  • Help students find a healthy balance between “quality home time" and "quality school time”
  • Tackle student over-emphasis on numerical grades and perfectionism

The team decided that the right thing to do for their students was to transform Staten Island Technical High School from a Grade-Based Learning model to a Mastery-Based Learning model. Now one of 53 participating schools in the New York City Department of Education’s Mastery Collaborative, representatives from the Staten Island Tech team will reflect upon the institutional changes they’ve implemented, the challenges they’ve encountered, and the road ahead in their ongoing journey towards sustainable student success.

Resources:

 

Questions from Live Webinar Answer(s) from Staten Island Tech Team
Did you have different rubrics for different ability levels or developmentally different learners? As an English teacher, I do not create different rubrics for different ability levels because different abilities doesn't mean different expectations, simply different supports to get to the goal.
Is there a difference between grade stress and the stress of being behind the rest of the class in a mastery setting? Speaking for my course (and I believe Pat would say the same), the way we have structured our classes are around stations and project based learning, so there isn't a feeling of being "behind the rest" since it is designed for individual progress.
How does this work with a class that has a required curriculum to cover (such as a math or ela class with standards)? It works the same way in required courses and electives - giving students multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning. We structure it around standards and goals, so the student asks him/herself: Did I hit the goal?
What does this feedback look like for parents to show progress? We still use IO Classroom to connect with our families. All progress and feedback is posted and we consistently communicate with families via anecdotals.
Do you believe that utilizing a "universal language" in the school when it comes to Mastery Learning is benefical to the success of the educational shift? Absolutely, and this is still a work-in-progress. The first step was creating the unilateral and universal gradebook so we all knew what "oracy" (for example) meant and students were able to translate those skills across courses.
How do teachers move on to new material if students are still making up exams? Many of us have moved into project-based learning, so it requires a number of skills which build upon each other. We continue with content when the majority of students have demonstrated mastery. If there are still students who have not mastered content, we spend station time with those students and/or peer support.
If a student demonstrates mastery of a topic in November, is that enough?   Do they get tested again in the spring? Almost all courses require students to build on the skills they learn from the beginning of the year throughout the whole year, so through project-based learning they are consistently advancing those skills.
For the hybrid model of instruction (especially starting this as a small pilot within a number grade system) how did you ‘grade’ the Learning Progress portion of grades?  Was it just the quiz grades? Mastery based instruction hinges on outcomes.  Once you establish the outcomes for the course, you can find the multiple opportunities for students master those specific competencies.
When assessments are given in small chunks, how do you know that students retain information long term? Most of the teachers would still give a “final” at the end of a marking period or semester.  In addition, there was a state test at the end for many of the classes.

We also use Project-Based Learning which requires multiple skillsets and content knowledge to complete.
What does “oracy” mean?

We define it as skills regarding speaking and communicating (on all levels). These are the standards that students are supposed to work towards:

  • Speak with confidence, clarity and fluency
  • Recognize the value of listening
  • Adapt the use of language for a range of different purposes and audiences
  • Concentrate, interpret and respond appropriately to a wide range of listening experiences
  • Appreciate the diversity of languages, dialects and accents in the school and value the experience and contributions of children with a wide variety of linguistic backgrounds
Kristen, you mentioned the habits of success used at SITHS. What are these and how are they defined at the school? I assume it is part of the universal language at the school. TIMELINESS & PROACTIVITY
Students are expected to:
  • Arrive to class on time and be prepared to engage in meaningful learning activities, as prompted by the teacher (Ex. Notebook/Device out & ready, Do Now started.)
  • Respect deadlines (Classwork, homework, major & minor assignments) and manage time accordingly.
  • Take initiative to navigate conflicts and setbacks (Ex. Follow up on missing work due to absenteeism, converses with teacher to discuss progress.)
  • Directing focus and attention on active class facilitator
ORACY
Students are expected to:
  • Speak with confidence, clarity and fluency
  • Recognize the value of listening
  • Adapt the use of language for a range of different purposes and audiences
  • Concentrate, interpret and respond appropriately to a wide range of listening experiences
  • Appreciate the diversity of languages, dialects and accents in the school and value the experience and contributions of children with a wide variety of linguistic backgrounds
CITIZENSHIP
Students are expected to:
  • Respect other people and their property
  • Adhere to school rules and policies
  • Display good character (responsibility, honesty, kindness)
  • Give back to the school community
PARTICIPATION & TEAMWORK
Students are expected to:
  • Foster cooperation and collaboration in others
  • Encourage and enable flexibility
  • Facilitate and model teamwork
  • Create a culture of accountability
  • Foster partnerships
How does the classroom community differ with Mastery-Based Learning?  Have you seen paradigm shifts in how instructors build community? Absolutely. The shift is from teacher-as-master to teacher-as-facilitator. It asks the students to become independent learners and teachers function more as coaches.
Are "final" grades at the end of quarter or semester part of the “learning progress” category? We now give a progress report mid Fall/Spring and then a final report card grade at the end of the Fall/Spring
Could you give more examples of what tasks/assessments go into the “Learning Progress” and “Habits of Success” categories.

How courses are graded: A students final grade in a course is the sum of the cumulative work and average of

  • 85% Learning Progress (Mastery Based Measures: Qualitative Grades from Formative & Summative Assessments, Classwork, Homework, Projects, Essays & Papers, Lab Reports, etc.)
  • 15% Habits of Success (No-Mastery Based Measures: Timeliness & Proactivity, Participation & Teamwork, Character and Oracy)
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