MBL using blended learning Reflections after nearly 1.25 years

I want to reflect on the last 1.25 years, as I'm about ready to finish another quarter (where has the time gone).

In 2015-16 my school implemented a Mastery Based Learning (MBL) program for all freshman. I had previously seen the data from the pilot schools within the district and was looking forward to the paradigm shift. Our MBL model uses a software package to measure student growth, one-to-one chromebooks, and intensive teacher interaction. Teachers work with students on topics they are ready to learn, not topics that the teacher has predetermined must be taught on any specific day. The one section of the textbook for all students is no longer part of MBL classrooms. Small group instruction, stations, independent work, and peer tutoring have replaced the whole group, all learning the same topic at the same time classroom. 

This summer (as with the summer before), the funding was sufficient to continue the MBL for any of last years freshmen (Class of 2019) and any entering freshmen (Class of 2020). The summer learning instructor worked for a few days each week to make sure students were able to continue their learning progress . As a result I think we will have a large part of the class of 2019 on track (with way more content knowledge and a high degree of skills) to complete Algebra I very shortly. Each day I get a few more notifications that students have mastered all the material and should be awarded credit. 

As a school of choice we have many different sending school districts, all with various math expectations and curriculum. I have noticed that as we try and meet each student at their level of knowledge we have (and probably always have had) a large range of skills. Previous to MBL we attempted the best we could to help each of these students, but in the end the class had to move on, together. Many students were forced to develop coping strategies that included dependence on calculators, retakes, and memorization to "pass" the course with a 60. Couple this with the "fluff" of many teachers grading systems that reward more "doing" school rather than actual learning and I know why student skills were low. I have never been surprised (but often frustrated) when juniors and seniors still struggle with Algebra skills purportedly "learned" freshmen year.  MBL appears to be helping with this gap in student knowledge. 

We have repeatedly published and discussed that we have four years to helps students earn 3 credits of math. We would like every student to earn 4 years of math credit and be ready for any training (vocational, on the job, or college) upon graduation. Traditionally students earn these credit (at least at my school) with 60 or greater. Many take the ever popular summer courses to remediate their credits. However, now we are seeing that when students gain a solid understanding of Algebra and arithmetic, through MBL, the higher level courses are not taking as long and students are quickly learning the more difficult concepts.  For example when many students demonstrate actual mastery of Algebra I, and then start Algebra II they have little to no needed review and can continue their learning. 

This year has been a great opportunity to move the program forward. Last year we learned lots. I did extensive data analysis and we made some small corrections. The MBL program has learning objectives broken down by learning topics, plus we measure time on the system. Using data we as a math department decided to focus more on helping students master topics, and not on how long they are "learning". We are fortunate that the district and school are not beholden to the school year.  I'm hopeful that as we continue to expand the MBL program the traditionally more difficult courses will take less time, as the students will begin with a better foundation of skills.

The main challenge now is teaching students to monitor their learning and set meaningful learning targets. I watched today as a teacher was reviewing these learning targets and saw a wide range. I believe this means we are finally measuring student growth on a scale that is meaningful and achievable to the students. This year should prove educational for me as we continue this MBL model.