Three take-aways and best practices from the Living Lab visit at MS 442: “Operationalizing your mastery philosophy"

1. Pedagogical philosophy drives school design 

MS 442 came to mastery-based grading four years ago, when they were thinking about how their school could better serve students. Math teacher Lisa Genduso says, “we were always strong with supporting students socially and emotionally, always good at making students comfortable and confident...but the rigor wasn’t so high.” In a search to up their rigor, the school partnered with design thinkers to support them in thinking through their school’s goals. “They did a really good job of questioning us and listening to us,” Genduso reports. From this reflection on their school’s philosophy, the staff decided to pursue competency-based grading. The coherence of MS 442’s philosophy is striking, and suggests that other schools may benefit from the reflective and generative practices of the MS 442 staff.

Read more about MS 442’s “Intentional School Design” here.



2. Norm second-chances: Update Weeks

Because continuous improvement is part of the school’s philosophy, students have built-in class time to revisit learning outcomes for practice and re-assessment. At MS 442 this time is school wide, and known as “update week.” During this time students are given a chance to improve their mastery level in a given outcome. “We’re giving them the language to think about which skills they need to work on,” Priyanka, a math teacher, explains. A successful update results in one demonstration of mastery. At MS 442, students need three demonstrations across time.




3. Manage behavior without grading it

MS 442 uses an in-house grading tracker called “The Hive,” designed by self-taught tech-guru and math teacher, Jared Sutton. Because The Hive is custom built, it tracks not only learning outcomes, but the school’s mentoring system, and behavior tracker, as well. At MS 442, behavior is disaggregated from grades and tracked separately. “We document behavior in a way that connects to their positive behavior incentives. They’re eligible for incentives as long as there’s no unresolved behavior issue. They always have the opportunity to restore,” explains Jared. This restoration opportunity further messages the idea of growth--students at MS 442 always have chances to practice and improve.

Interested in hearing more from MS 442 student Moheeb? Check out this article from the New York Times.