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Are Your Students as Far Behind as Mine?

#mastery Sep 09, 2022

The pandemic has been hard on schools, students, and, yes us teachers. One of the most devastating and demoralizing results of the pandemic has been that so many of our students are significantly behind. The Brookings Institute did a study and found that math and reading scores dropped significantly and that this disproportionately impacted students from marginalized communities. 

In my high performing school, I have noticed significant gaps in student preparation. And I imagine you are all seeing the same things as you are back in school full-time with students. Many suggestions have been made as to how to catch students up. Some are encouraging students to take summer school, while others are working on systems where there is ongoing tutoring. 

But is there another way? A way that the average teacher can implement without huge expenditures of time and money? In 2007 I helped pioneer the flipped classroom model and that model laid the groundwork for what I am doing now in my classroom. I am not flipping my class per se anymore, but rather I am teaching using Mastery/Competency-Based Learning in my class. 

Mastery Learning is defined as: An approach to classroom instruction that empowers every student at every level to progress with confidence. The teacher uses flexible pacing to guide students through a cyclic process of preparation, demonstration of knowledge, and feedback until there is a mutual agreement between the teacher and individual student that the student is read for the next cycle to begin. (Bergmann, 2022)

The approach is not new and has proven to be successful with students with a wide range of abilities and levels of achievement. And it is not terribly difficult to implement in the average teachers classroom. Their curricular materials only need to be tweaked to deliver the content via the best practices of mastery learning. 

The big idea of mastery learning is that at the end of a unit/chapter, students take a summative assessment and if they pass, they move on to the next unit. If they don’t, they receive remediation and then continue to work on mastering the content until they pass the summative assessment. 

Challenges to Mastery Learning

However, moving to Mastery Learning will also come with a few challenges.

  • Mindset of Teachers: Teaching via Mastery Learning will require a mindset change. No longer will all students be on the same page of the curriculum at the same time. 
  • Asynchronous -ish: Don’t worry though that you will have crazy wide gaps in what students will be working on. There are ways that you can keep most students roughly on the same page at the same time. I teach high school chemistry and physics and I have dangerous labs – and I make it work. So if I can do it…
  • When do you teach? A common misconception is that teachers won’t actually be teaching but instead just monitoring student progress. This is where flipped learning comes in. Since I have a library of instructional videos and text documents for students to get the initial learning from, I have time-shifted myself, and now students can learn the “next” thing asynchronously without my doing direct instruction to the whole class at the same time.  

Benefits of Mastery Learning

If you adopt Mastery Learning, the benefits are amazing.  You will find that:

  • Your struggling students will achieve more. Research shows that Mastery Learning works best for students who are behind. 
  • You will reach your high-achieving students. Because students can advance as they move through the curriculum, high-achieving students will not be held back by slower struggling peers.
  • Your students will love you for it.  Below are a few statements from students in mastery learning classrooms.
    • Thanks for helping me grow up a bit and be independent
    • I really enjoyed this course this year. The self-pacing was fun and I loved the system you use. 
    • I know that I will fully comprehend the material without being punished for not learning it in a short amount of time. I get to learn at my own pace.

Learn More

If you are interested in learning more about Mastery Learning, I encourage you to pick a copy of my new book, The Mastery Learning Handbook – A Competency-Based Approach to Student Achievement. The book is available for pre-order at .

You may also want to attend the Mastery Learning Summit on October 21, 2022 at Houston Christian High School. I will be keynoting this EdTechTeacher event along with other experts in the mastery learning movement, offering strands specific for STEM teachers, humanities teachers, elementary teachers, administrators & coaches. Join us on October 21st at Houston Christian High School for this amazing opportunity! Learn more and register here!


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