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The Problem

It is no secret that the majority of education systems in America have not changed much in at least the past hundred years. Teachers and schools remain the gatekeepers of education (at least the education that schools feel is important), students progress along an age based track, and a partial understanding is often good enough to move along.  The problem with a stagnant system of education is that it has not been able to evolve into what our students and society needs. A very popular explanation of this was presented by Sir Ken Robinson in one of his TED talks:

Another good attempt to explain this issue can be found in Sal Kan’s book One World Schoolhouse. In this book, Sal talks about how the Prussian model we base our public education system on has not changed dramatically in the past two centuries. He also discusses how a shift to a mastery-based system will help us level the playing field for our students, bring creativity and relevance back to school, while helping create a system of education that can ensure we prepare students to be successful participants in and contributors to our society.


So… What Is A Mastery-based System?

It may be referred to as a competency-based, standards-based, or mastery-based, but the majority of education reformers agree on a few key points. A lot goes into successfully implementing a mastery-baed system, but the core of a mastery-based system of education contains three components.

  • Allows students to progress at a pace that suits their needs
  • Expects students to demonstrate proficiency on clearly identified standards
  • Utilizes personalized learning to best teach all students

A World Of Untapped Opportunities

Teachers who have begun working in a true mastery-based system have begun to see just how much learning that happens naturally, outside of a traditional school environment, overlaps with what is being done in school. These experiences could be internet tutorials and exercises, on the job trainings, or badges that are earned by scouts, just to name a few. When we figure out how to incorporate these learning experiences into a student’s progression through school, schools will be able to more effectively teach students while also making school a more relevant part of a child’s life.

If a school does not figure out how to make these learning experiences and resources valuable, they will be much more difficult to integrate into school. A student may be lucky enough to have a teacher who gives credit for outside work or recognition of prior learning, but if a teacher is tied to a traditional grading system where all students progress through content at the same pace, it is unlikely the learning experiences will help them progress through school. Yes, the student will probably be learning during these experiences, but if teachers are not able to give credit for what has been learned then students will find themselves repeating content and spending time on concepts that have already been mastered.


Helping Learners Excel

People often think of school as an experience that is the same for all students. In reality all learners are different and their schooling should be as well. In a mastery-based system it is more likely that teachers are able to help student find their  passions and strengths. A long as students achieving proficiency on the required standards, student have the freedom to focus their efforts. Doing so helps them become great at at least one thing. From here, student are able to branch out and explore other interests and experiences.

Sir Ken Robinson talks about how current education systems are failing to help students uncover these natural resources in his “Bring on the learning revolution” TED talk.

Along with helping learners focus on what is important to them, in a mastery-based system it is easier for teachers to take advantage of student centered goal setting. With the flexibility that individualized learning provides, when students can have more of a say in their education, goal setting is their voice. This important life long skill gains relevance when the goals are specific to each student and when they really are being set by the learner.


It Isn’t Just About The Technology

Technology shouldn’t be the first thing that schools should focus on. Being as we are (at least partially) a technology company, this might be a strange thing to say. But it is true. Effective SC believes the evolution of our education systems is something that can only be successful when there is the proper confluence of systems and supports.

  • We need people to understand that a system of education must be able to support learning that happens anytime and anywhere.
  • Education should help students move along a their own learning pathways, at the pace that best suits their needs.
  • Students should have the freedom to find their personal passions while working towards their strengths.
  • Schools need to have a method for student to to submit their external learnings for credit.
  • All of these systems need to be consist and and available to all students.


  • Society needs to realize that school as it was in the past might not be the solution for students today. School districts that are making the shift to a mastery-based system need their local governments, boards, and higher education systems to be on board with the changes that take place.
  • With the changes that need to take place in education, professional development, family workshops, and community engagement programs need to become a priority for school districts. There will be a number of things that are dramatically different from schooling as we now know it. In order to best support schools and students, all members of a school’s community need to be on the same page.
  • Technologies that are used in schools need to be created to support a mastery-based system. We can not expect teachers and school districts to bend a system to fit a tool. Teachers who are expected to use traditional grade books, time-based tools, and teachers paced resources find themselves caught between a new system of education and a traditional set of tools. In this situation, something will have to give.

Where Do We Fit In?

At Effective SC, we have worked closely with schools that are implementing mastery-based systems. Through this work we feel we understand what can stand in the way of implementing a mastery-based system and are developing tools that help teachers and schools overcome these potential barriers.

levelup schoolWithout the ability to track student progress through standards, independent of classes and time, teachers will not know what students need to work on. It may seem insignificant  but a teacher who is tracking data for 40 standards across 100+ students each day will quickly be overwhelmed. If they have students that move in and out of their classes throughout the year or students that have not completed all their standards in the previous year, knowing what to teach and what they have mastered becomes an unmanageable nightmare. LevelUp School is designed to help teachers track what students have learned and what they can do. It doesn’t keep track of a grade in a class, because that’s not what learning should be about.

levelup anytime

Without a system that can offer up suggestions of  academic resources, teachers will be overwhelmed with finding resources to personalize the learning experiences of their students. LevelUp Anytime is our tool that can help teachers and students find content that they need, when they need it.

competency map logo

Without a way to easily align learning experiences to the standards a school feels are important, teachers are expected to manually align a vast amount of content themselves. If they are unable to align the content, the student may not get credit for what they have learned. CompetencyMap.org is one of our initiatives that aims to take care of this content alignment for teachers.



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Effective Social Change is an organization devoted to using technology and process to encourage social growth. If you would like to work with us, or believe we might be able to help you, please let us know.