There has been quite a bit of concern in recent days over the grading system chosen by the Tennessee Virtual Academy, and how student grades are calculated. Parents, teachers, and legislators are weighing in heatedly on the debate—but many may still be concerned with the reasons why the TNVA middle school has chosen the system that they have. Parents need to base their decisions on solid facts and the system that works best for their children, but many may not understand the difference in the TNVA system and the system that is used by most brick and mortar schools.
In a brick and mortar classroom, it is not possible to work on a mastery-based system all the time. Students who fall behind or are way ahead of their classmates are going to be left behind (or virtually ignored) because teachers must, as a rule, teach to the middle of their class. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be; but it is, all too often, the way it is.
Mastery-based grading means that children do not move on to the next level until they have mastered, or thoroughly understand, the content in each individual unit. If, when they take the assessment, they do not have a complete grasp of the material, they have the ability to go back, redo the lessons, study again, and take advantage of the opportunity to retake their assessment—often scoring far higher than they did the first time. If necessary, teachers or parents can go over the lesson with them, helping them to understand any area in which they fell flat and reinforcing any skills that have not been completely mastered.
Completion grading means exactly that. An assignment is done, it is turned in, and the score received is final. The only way to raise a grade is by doing better on the next assignment; and if a concept is one that a student has particular trouble with, they may score so badly that the score can not be brought back up.
What the TNVA is doing is allowing students the opportunity to have their grades reflect their most recent progress and mastery, rather than having former, lower scores pull their grades down. Students have the chance to retest and completely make up for their original score. Once they fully understand the concept, or if it comes clearer later, they have the ability to go back and redo their assessments.
If the goal is for the students to actually learn and own the material, rather than simply completing the minimum and moving on, this is an excellent method of grading. Students become more likely to go back over the material, rather than just moving on to the next thing. In a completion grading setting, once they’ve passed the assessment, students are all too likely to never look at it again.