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Formative Assessments and Mastery-based Grading

An important attribute in a positive learning culture is the Assessment Process. Designed to elicit evidence of learning with high fidelity, it provides the information educators need to determine where the learner is in their progress toward the intended learning goals. The fidelity of evidence, indicating mastery, is tightly scrutinized and aligned to the learning goals defined by respective success criteria. It is important to use multiple sources of evidence to draw accurate conclusions about the learner's mastery, so effective planning with segmented assessments are utilized throughout the school year.

Another important aspect of a positive learning culture is the learner's ability to expect and accept feedback in order to reflect on and make changes to evidence of understanding and mastery. Through formative feedback, defined as feedback while learning is taking place, students are coached to see feedback as an integral part of the learning process. In a grade centric, or exclusively summative assessment learning culture, feedback can promote discouragement and avoidance from the learner. With a formative feedback environment, feedback is given for learning as students are encouraged to explore, analyze and edit evidence of skill mastery. Educators coach the learner to view formative feedback, even if initially viewed as "failing", to be part of a healthy learning culture. Students accept and assimilate formative feedback as an intentional element to growth, maturation and academic success.

Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac promotes a learning culture and Assessment Process aligned with the Educational Project of the Sisters of the Company of Mary and the overall mission of the school. Formative Assessments are deliberate and used by educators during and after instruction. The assessment process provides actionable data used to adjust ongoing instruction and planning in order to improve each learner’s attainment of skill mastery relating to curricular learning goals and respective success criteria. 

Mastery-based Grading

Mastery-based grading is an intentional way for teachers to track their students' progress and achievements while focusing on helping students learn and reach their highest potential. It is based on students showing signs of mastery or understanding various lessons and skills. In fact, many districts across the country have embraced the idea for decades. Mastery-based grading is a way to view student progress based on proficiency levels for identified learning goals rather than relying on a holistic representation as the sole measure of achievement. Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac School provides a rigorous curriculum allowing each student to experience their individual strengths and build resiliency and growth in areas that learning needs to take place.

How Mastery-based assessment can benefit both teacher and student

  • Provides meaning to grades – Students understand why they receive each grade and the breakdown of how they did on each learning goal rather than a receiving a vague letter or percent score with no explanation.
  • Keeps students and teachers accountable – With specific learning goals and essential questions expected from the beginning of the class, the teacher knows what they are expected to teach. With the use of consistent formative assessments, teachers and students know how well they are doing on these learning goals and can adjust as needed to ensure proficient understanding by the end of the year.
  • Better feedback for improvement – With grades broken up into different learning standards, students can immediately see which areas of learning they need to improve upon. Teachers can also use this information to improve instruction; if they see that a majority of the class has a lack of understanding in one learning goals, they can focus on that learning goal prior to moving forward. Background knowledge and mastery is at the heart of the SBG system providing students time to master the learning goal(s) increasing their ability to apply their learning as they progress.
  • Provides information to differentiate instruction – With learning standards common to the class and frequent formative assessments, the teacher knows which students are each level for each standard. Using this information, they can differentiate instruction and give different leveled assignments to different groups of students based on proficiency levels.
  • Students become more self-motivated – With the goal of SBG being student mastery and understanding rather than getting the most points, students become more motivated to truly understand the material. The “Will this be graded?” question is slowly replaced with earnest questions to better understand the material.
  • Tracks Mastery – With standards-based grading, teachers are able to focus their instruction and progress analysis around how students are mastering the content required for each standard. Tracking standards mastery helps instructors make sure they are adequately preparing students for the skills that will be needed going into high school, college and career.
Proficiency Scale   Indicators    
  Level 4: Exceptional  

Demonstrates an exceptional understanding of all concepts and skills.

Applies knowledge independently and creatively.

Consistently applies critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Shows a high level of mastery and depth of understanding.

Consistently exceeds grade-level expectations and demonstrates advanced skills.

  Level 3: Proficient  

Demonstrates a solid understanding of most concepts and skills.

Applies knowledge independently with occasional guidance.

Makes occasional errors but is able to self-correct.

Consistently meets grade-level expectations.

Shows steady progress towards advanced skills.

  Level 2: Developing  

Shows a partial understanding of concepts and skills.

Requires some support and guidance from the teacher.

Demonstrates inconsistent application of knowledge.

Makes occasional errors but is starting to self-correct.

Demonstrates some progress towards grade-level expectations.

  Level 1: Novice  

Demonstrates limited understanding of basic concepts and skills.

Requires significant support and guidance from the teacher.

Struggles to apply knowledge independently.

Makes frequent errors and needs regular redirection.

Shows minimal progress in achieving grade-level expectations.


It is important that a distinction is maintained between Proficiency Scales associated with Mastery-based Grading and Traditional Grading. The distinction is that the Proficiency Scale will never translate or be converted to the Traditional Grading Scale based on the 0-100% score. In other words, a 4 in SBG does not equate to a 100% or a 3 SBG translate to a "B". Students are formatively evaluated on their ability to apply learning rather than showing that they memorized facts for an assessment. Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac School recognizes the importance of learning to automaticity (memorizing facts), but the school does not simply assess this ability, which is the lowest form of learning based on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy or Webb's Depth of Knowledge framework.

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