A “passing” grade versus mastery

I was having a conversation recently with a friend whose children are enrolled in local public schools. He was debating the idea of homeschooling his own children. Because his older son is most interested in math, he wanted to compare what we were using for math versus what public schools were using. And – you know me – I was quite happy to oblige.

He seemed frustrated with his son’s low performance in what was otherwise one of his favorite subjects. Boredom is a major problem for his son in school, he explained. He was performing poorly on tests – on content he knew cold – simply because he was not sufficiently motivated to listen to the teacher’s instructions and thus routinely made dumb mistakes. Anyone who has ever sat in a classroom listening to a teacher drone on and on and on can appreciate where that kid is coming from. He’s the quintessential smart kid staring out the window all day.

But what struck me from this conversation was how conditioned the father was to be okay with an average score on a test. He was disappointed with a “C” test score, but it wasn’t really a problem for him so long as his kid was not ultimately going to be held back a grade. Imagine how this translates into subjects in which his child does not have a particular gift.

I don’t know many (any?) homeschoolers who teach their children that way. When our daughter misses questions on regular school work or a test, she has to go back and correct each one. We do not move on to another topic until I am 100% convinced that she has mastered the one we are working on, even if that means I have to make or hunt for more practice content. There is no congratulating a child for getting 70% of the answers correct. Period.

It struck me that the cumulative effect of this sort of behavior is immense.

Granted, some parents who have their kids enrolled in traditional schools share the same philosophy as homeschoolers. But they are often derided by other parents for doing so – consider the term “tiger mom,” referring to Asian mothers who only accept the best work from their children. To master something is often caricatured as being an “overachiever.” “Oh, well, your child actually learned the content they are teaching… Do you even let them have a childhood?” This is the way a lot of people talk about education, and it’s insane.

If you accept a “passing” score throughout the early years in education, later years are not going to be any easier for the child. But mastery is a true foundation for later learning. This is why homeschoolers knock other kids out of the water on college testing. They don’t have to cram for a massive standardized test because they truly learned the content in the first place. They aren’t sitting in a classroom of 40 kids with a teacher that is simply estimating the probability that they learned something well enough to maybe use it in real life (if they haven’t already forgotten it by the time that knowledge is summoned). Their future supervisors are never going to say, “Hey, at least you can do the easy problems on this topic. That’s good enough.”

It’s a huge difference, both from an academic standpoint and from the standpoint of establishing a work ethic.

One thought on “A “passing” grade versus mastery

  1. Sadly, mediocrity seems to be the norm these days. I was always taught to do my best and to be my best. Today, those words have no meaning. People no longer want to push themselves. they just do the bare bone minimum and seem to be perfectly OK with that. I do NOT understand the world today, and I certainly do NOT like it much any more.

    Liked by 1 person

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