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Idaho Bolsters Mastery-Based Education

• Karla Phillips

Last month, Idaho Governor Brad Little signed into law SB 1059 to bolster mastery education and formalize the Idaho Mastery Education Network. This is great news for Idaho and the nation.

Mastery-based education is an approach to learning that allows students to progress when they demonstrate mastery of key content and skills, regardless of the time spent in class or even where instruction takes place. This example of next generation learning is designed to ensure students graduate high school fully prepared to thrive in college or career.

Idaho’s Journey

Idaho’s methodic progression toward mastery education began in 2015, when the state passed historic legislation enabling a cohort of up to 20 schools to incubate a process of transitioning to mastery education.

And last week—after three years of thoughtful and intentional design and implementation supported by the Idaho Department of Education—the state took another leap forward. Idaho’s SB 1059 lifted the statutory cap on the number of districts and schools in the state’s pilot program and formalized the Idaho Mastery Education Network while the legislature simultaneously continued the program’s appropriation of $1.4 million.

“Mastery-based, student-centered learning is the wave of the future in Idaho education, and it was gratifying to hear Idaho lawmakers embrace that concept, giving us the green light to expand our mastery network,” said Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra. “Students, teachers and administrators in 32 Idaho schools are already seeing success as incubators for our collaborative, personalized approach, and many more schools and districts have expressed interest in joining. My department is eager to meet that need. Now that the cap on participation has been lifted, I see great things ahead for Idaho schools and students.”

An Example for the Nation

Idaho’s transparent approach toward mastery education offers an example and inspiration for other states.

In January, the Idaho Department of Education released two reports to address policymaker questions or concerns. (As we noted in our Next Generation Learning Policy Brief, a thoughtful evaluation plan can help build support and increase momentum.)

  1. The Idaho Mastery Education Progress Report recounted the steps Idaho has taken to thoughtfully design, launch and begin implementation of mastery education.
  2. Separately, the Department secured Education Northwest to conduct an outside evaluation, the Idaho Mastery Education Network (IMEN) Implementation Evaluation.

The IMEN evaluation includes the following quotes from educators which illustrate just how mastery-based education is driving school transformation in education and helping students take ownership of their learning.

“Mastery is forcing an essential shift in education. Students are being pushed out of the role of passive learners—listening to a teacher, taking homework assignments from a teacher—to forging their own way through material.”

“We are most proud of our students that are taking advantage of what we are creating (a mastery/personalized educational system), those that are taking ownership of their learning. Our conversations with students are now based on academic performance and future goal setting instead of avoidance behaviors.”

Looking Forward

Idaho is well poised to forge ahead, paving a unique path yet filled with lessons for states all across the county to learn. We look forward to continuing our support as well as sharing the stories of their journey to other states.

About the author

Karla Phillips

Karla is Policy Director for Next Generation Learning at ExcelinEd. Previously, she served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent of Policy and Programs at the Arizona Department of Education. Karla also served as the Education Policy Advisor for Governor Brewer and as the Vice-Chair of Arizona’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Her experience includes serving as Director of State Government Relations for Arizona State University (ASU) and as a senior policy advisor for Arizona’s House of Representatives. Karla received her B.A. from Indiana University and an M.P.A from Arizona State University.