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Student Growth Measures,

Learning Growth vs. Learning Mastery

As educators, we may sometimes think of student learning growth and student learning mastery as being one and the same.

Following up on his last post, about SLOs and student growth, Mark Kevesdy discusses the differences between growth and mastery.

However, a closer examination of the two shows a slightly different picture and this distinction has important implications for both students and teachers.

Student learning growth is measuring student learning between two points in time. In other words, it provides teachers with a temperature reading of students' progress towards meeting long-term mastery. This concept is not new, as many educators have implemented formative assessments into their instructional planning; thus allowing for a snapshot of student learning in real time and making informed decisions as a result of the feedback. Teachers and students, alike, can make adjustments in their instruction and learning before a summative assessment or high stakes exam. All students, but especially students who begin the academic year below grade level, will benefit when there is a focus on learning growth1.

Student mastery on the other hand is setting rigorous yet realistic, quantifiable goals for mastery of academic content that should be mastered during the academic course or academic year . Ultimately, students are expected to demonstrate mastery for high school graduation, college, and career readiness.

Students are expected to master course content or grade level specific standards by a specific time. Otherwise, learners fall behind within a grade level, making it more difficult to succeed in the following course or academic school year. Thus, measuring student learning growth is essential to closing any gaps in student mastery.

Setting student growth goals and student mastery goals are essential for all students to be prepared and successful for each step in the educational process; whether that is next school year, college, or into their careers. Growth goals allow for teachers and students to focus on the areas that need improvement, so that students can be success later in the process.

As the teacher and student focus and reflect on growth made during a period of time; both are inclined to experience success at intermittent steps in the process while working towards long-term mastery. This is especially true for students who begin the school year below grade level. However, all students can demonstrate growth and mastery as teachers and students together ambitiously set the learning bar high enough to exceed course or grade level expectations.

Student Learning Growth Student Learning Mastery
Gauging student progress towards long-term mastery goals Masters rigorous academic course content standards
Striving towards meeting/exceeding grade-level standards Meets academic standards for graduation and College Readiness Standards
Targeting specific opportunities for improvement All students are ready for the next grade


1. Chicago Public Schools (2010). School Performance Management Tootkit: A Guide for Instructional Leadership Teams [PDF].

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