Author: Christy Kingham

Put Us In the Room Where It Happens: Teacher-Driven Shifts To Mastery

February 13, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education blog on January 4, 2017. 

I wanna be in the room where it happens.

This line from the Broadway hit Hamilton is one I refer to often when thinking about how we can effectively bring students and teachers in to create honest and equitable systems of assessment.

Our little school in Queens, New York, has worked tirelessly to create and maintain a teacher-created system of mastery-based grading. I’m thirteen years into my middle and high school English teaching career, but the school I have had the privilege of being a part of for the past six years is The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria. Our school is grades 6-12, public, all-girls, and Title I.  On average, 98% of our graduates are accepted to and attend college, and we have been a mastery-based school for the past seven years.

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Christy conducting a coaching session.

Our mastery work began when our founding principal shared a paper with her then-staff, “Removing Structural Barriers to Academic Achievement in High Schools: An Innovative Model” by Camille A. Farrington and Margaret H. Small.  The gist of the paper addressed the dropout rate as a “structural problem” connected to traditional systems of determining final grades and course credit. It was a call to action honoring “differential learning rates”. For our founding teachers, this was an issue of social justice-being able to provide multiple opportunities for students to achieve mastery of skills over time was simply more equitable. Our through line was, and remains, educational equity.

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