• Frequently Asked Questions

    (These questions were copied from http://www.sde.idaho.gov/mastery-ed/. If you want to see the original content, go to the above website, click on the FAQs tab, then expand each question.)


    What is “mastery”?

    The targeted level of achievement relative to a standard or learning goal. “Demonstrating mastery” is synonymous with “demonstrating proficiency” or “meeting the standard.” Students at the Center Hub is a great resource of information on student-centered learning approaches.

    What is Mastery Education (ME)?

    Mastery Education is an education system where student progress is based upon a student’s demonstration of mastery of competencies and content, not seat time or the age or grade level of the student as stated in Idaho Code §33-1632(5)(b).

    A student can accelerate through concepts and skills they have mastered and receive more time and support in areas where that may be more difficult. The new system is comprehensive and can include fundamental changes in schedules, calendars, assessment, and grading.

    Key design principles were outlined in the working definition of mastery education developed by a collaboration of innovative leaders and practitioners, led by CompetencyWorks and iNACOL, include:

    • Students advance upon mastery
    • Competencies include explicit, measureable, transferable learning objectives that empower students
    • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students
    • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs
    • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

    Note:The terms mastery, proficiency, and competency based are often used interchangeably.

    Why is Idaho moving toward a Mastery-based Educational system?

    Transitioning to ME was one of the recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education. Moving away from the current time-based system will allow for more personalized and differentiated learning. ME requires a focus on explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that will empower students. Additionally, it includes competencies that require application of knowledge and skill development.

    In 2015, House Bill 110 directed the SDE to perform the following activities to move Idaho toward a Mastery Education system:

    1. Conduct a statewide awareness campaign to promote understanding and interest in Mastery-based Education for teachers, administrators, parents, students, business leaders and policymakers.
    2. Establish a committee of educators to identify roadblocks and possible solutions in implementing Mastery Education and develop recommendations for the incubator process.
    3. Facilitate the planning and development of an incubator process and assessments of local education agencies to identify the initial cohort of 20 local education agencies to serve as incubators in fiscal year 2017.

    Does a Mastery Education system differ from traditional models?

    The common goal of our current system and a mastery system is to ensure all students are proficient in Idaho Content Standards.

    In traditional models of education, all students are promoted at the same time, whether or not each student fully mastered the content, which can result in gaps in students’ learning. This is sometimes referred to as “swiss-cheese learning” as these learning gaps may be pre-cursor skills needed to understand more advanced concepts.

    Providing the statutory and structural flexibility necessary to make prompt assessments and decisions regarding student progress with a stated goal of ensuring proficiency before advancement is what distinguishes a mastery system.

    The goal moves from earning points, grades, and credits to accomplishing learning goals. In the traditional system, a low grade can be seen as failure and is terminal. In a competency-based system, it’s just the beginning of the journey to mastery.

    What is the main problem Mastery Education will help the current system address?

    Too many students graduate without demonstrating that they are ready for college or career. Diplomas and credits based on seat time and mere passing grades allow students to think they are ready for college and career, but the data tells us otherwise.

    • Too many employers believe many high school graduates are not fully prepared for work. Four in five employers report that recent public high school graduates have at least some gaps in preparation and report an increase in the need to require additional training and education.1
    • Too many students perceive gaps in their preparation. A survey of high school graduates revealed that many feel unprepared for both college and work and admit they would have worked harder if more had been expected of them.2
    • Too many high school graduates require postsecondary remediation. More than 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges and nearly 20 percent of those entering four-year universities are placed in remedial classes.3

    There are clear signals that despite adopting college- and career-ready standards, the original problem of non-proficiency remains. The requirement to demonstrate competency in order to advance will help ensure that students will graduate when they are ready for college and career, regardless of how long it may take or what the path may look like.

    1Source: Achieve, Rising to the Challenge Part II,

    2Source: Achieve, Rising to the Challenge

    3Complete College America, Remediation: Higher Education’s Bridge to Nowhere, 2012

    What are the benefits of a Mastery Education system?

    Flexibility. The flexibility provided in a mastery system liberates educators to design courses, schedules, and staffing configurations that best meet their students’ individual needs. Educators are empowered to be innovative and nimble. Free from existing, outdated policies, they can maximize more of the day and even utilize extended learning opportunities. This can free up needed resources for the students who are struggling the most.

    Transparency. A foundation built on learning progressions, individual learning plans, student profiles, and real-time progression decisions replaces a traditional system based on course grades that may include homework, participation, and extra credit. This new foundation provides a fully transparent system that can adapt and serve the needs of individual students.

    Where has Mastery Education been implemented?

    In 2005, New Hampshire became the first state to embark on a competency-based education journey statewide by abolishing the Carnegie unit. In 2012, Maine passed legislation that, “beginning January 1, 2017, a diploma indicating graduation from a secondary school must be based on student demonstration of proficiency.”

    There are also pioneering districts and charters across the country pushing the envelope even without a statutory requirement. Examples include Chugach School District in Alaska and Lindsay Unified in California.

    iNACOL produced a detailed map demonstrating both the progress in state policy supporting competency-based education but also the variety in approaches.

    What are the initial steps if I am interested in advancing Mastery Education in my classroom, school, or district?

    The state has initiated the first step by providing legislation that authorizes the establishment of the Idaho Mastery Education Network, a cohort of 20 classrooms, schools or districts that will be selected through an application process beginning with the 2016-2017 school year.

    If you are interested in participating, a letter of intent along with a readiness survey is available in the Files tab.

    Those educational entities that make the five year commitment to transition to Mastery Education can request flexibility from the rules or regulations that hinder innovation. Participants would be subject to high performance expectations in exchange for flexibility.

    How can teachers embrace the implementation of Mastery Education?

    Mastery Education requires instructional techniques that are different from the traditional classroom. Teachers take on the role of the facilitator and learning coach, as opposed to delivering content. Teachers who are engaged early in the planning process report greater job satisfaction4. This is due, in part, to the focus on learning that occurs with ME and the local decisions made regarding implementation and support.

    4Teacher Motivation and Job Satisfaction: A Study Employing the Experience Sampling Method

    What do parents need to know about Mastery Education?

    As a parent you will be empowered by a transparent system that clearly shows how your child is doing. All stakeholders, as they do now, will have a voice and opportunity to help shape your child’s learning. It is system that will help teachers better meet the needs of your child.

    An awareness campaign will be conducted by the Mastery Education Department (MED). Key communication tools and resources will be developed by the MED to empower superintendents, administrators, and educators to convey a common message about the positive impact Mastery Education is having on our students. Data and best practices will be gathered from the Idaho Mastery Education Network to circulate to all stakeholders including parents.