For Student-Centered Learning to Work, Schools Must Rethink How to Assess Learning and Award Credit

Thomas Arnett, writing for the Christensen Institute, recently reflected on the necessity of mastery-based grading to facilitate personalized learning. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

Student-centered learning offers enormous potential to better meet each students’ individual learning needs. By varying the time, place, path, and pace of learning, student-centered learning helps those who struggle, those who excel, and those with varied talents and interests to each experience education in a way that sets them up for success. But just offering a menu of customizable learning experiences is insufficient for student-centered learning to work well.

As students progress through various learning opportunities, their schools need to ensure that they master prerequisite knowledge and skills as they advance to more challenging learning experiences. Additionally, schools need a way to ensure that each student’s stack of customized learning experiences provides a core body of knowledge and skills so that diplomas have meaning, and so that students are adequately prepared for college or other post-secondary options.

For student-centered learning to work, it needs to go hand-in-hand with new ways of assessing learning and awarding credit. Schools need better ways of measuring and tracking student learning so that smooth interchanges between various learning experiences can happen with predictable success. In other words, individualized instruction and mastery-based grading need to be two sides of the same coin. Only then can schools and students fully realize the benefits of customizable learning. Below are three key design principles for measuring students’ progress in a student-centered learning system derived from lessons learned in credit-hour system flaws.

1. Grade based on learning objectives, not course completion. 

2. Measure learning outcomes, not rankings or effort.

3. Separate teaching and grading. 

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