Parents and other stakeholders voiced their apprehension over the Moscow School District’s efforts to implement mastery-based education system-wide in an open meeting Monday night.

Promoted on social media by the Facebook group, MSD Standards, the meeting drew about 30 people, mostly parents, to the second-floor conference room in Moscow’s Federal Building.

Mastery-based education seeks to emphasize a student’s “mastery” of a given subject rather than a cumulative score based on overall performance. Hallmarks of the system include replacement of the standard letter grade with a 1-through-4 grading system and the ability for students to retake tests and redo assignments.

Parents and others at Monday’s meeting expressed skepticism over the program’s efficacy and were especially concerned over how the system is being rolled out in the district, which they said was done in relative secrecy.

Some Moscow schools switched to the new numbered grading system this year and some of those in attendance said they are already starting to see problems with student performance and confusion among teachers and parents over just how to execute the shift.

Parent Dale Miller, who helped to lead Monday’s discussion, said similar programs implemented in other parts of the country have had limited success.

“Mastery-based learning as a concept is wonderful, it just never works — it’s a utopian vision that turns into a dystopia incredibly quickly,” Miller said. “We’ve already seen it in our students — we’ve seen student apathy, we’ve already seen unintended consequences galore and we’ve already seen a bunch of parents going … ‘I don’t understand it.’ ”

Proponents of the plan, including many administrators in the district, say such a system allows students to approach and absorb material at their own pace, but assessment and instruction is still centered on the state’s Common Core standards.

Superintendent Greg Bailey, who has championed the shift, said the system provides a more granular view of a given student’s aptitude in each facet of a given class, showing which components they’ve have mastered and which they may need to work on to allow more targeted instructional strategies. While he acknowledged there have been some challenges that need to be ironed out as efforts move forward, Bailey pointed out that traditional education isn’t without its flaws.

“We look at a lot of the components we’re putting in place and … they’re research-based — you look at the traditional educational system, and there’s very limited research that supports that process,” Bailey said. “It was basically put into effect during the Industrial Revolution, when all these farm kids were moving to the city, they had to have a process and so they followed Henry Ford’s assembly line.”

Bailey said there have been issues communicating the shift effectively to parents but rejected assertions that the system was adopted and implemented in relative secrecy. He said it has been mentioned in virtually every school board meeting for the last three years and teachers were instructed to discuss the move in their back-to-school materials. He said the district produced a guide to the new grading and reporting for parents, which is available on the district website.

Miller remained skeptical.

“It’s a marketing document,” he said. “It extols the virtues of (mastery-based education), it doesn’t really answer the questions like ‘What if my kid is not motivated to do homework anymore?’ ”

The Moscow School Board will have a special meeting to discuss mastery-based education and stakeholder concerns Nov. 19 in the Moscow High School Auditorium.


Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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