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Mastery-based Learning

The state defined mastery-based learning (MBL) in E2SHB 1599 Sec. 301: 

  • Students advance upon demonstrated mastery of content; 
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students; 
  • Assessments are meaningful and a positive learning experience for students; 
  • Students receive rapid, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs; and 
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

At its core, MBL is personalized learning. Under MBL, students advance upon mastery of content as measured by meaningful, authentic assessments tied to state learning standards. Students take ownership of their learning and receive differentiated support based on their interests and needs. This model of instruction, which honors students’ assets and cultural backgrounds, has been shown to help close opportunity and achievement gaps.

Washington State has a Mastery-based Learning (MBL) Work Group, who was tasked by the Legislature to provide recommendations around the expansion of mastery-based credits and development of mastery-based pathways to the earning of a high school diploma. You can see the MBL Work Group’s recommendations in their 2020 report and see a summary of their recommendations in this graphic report summary.

If you have questions about the work group or next steps for MBL in Washington, please email Alissa Muller (who provides staff support to the work group).

Mastery-based (or competency-based) crediting is an option for students to earn high school credit for demonstration of learning on assessments that are clearly aligned to learning standards. The State Board of Education adopted rules (WAC 180-51-051) on mastery-based crediting in September 2020.

Additionally, WAC 180-51-050 defines a high school credit to mean: (For additional information about high school credits, please see SBE’s High School Credits FAQ.)

  • (1) Grades nine through twelve or the equivalent of a four-year high school program, or as otherwise provided in RCW 28A.230.090(4):
    • (a) Successful completion, as defined by written district policy, of courses taught to the state's learning standards. If there are no state-adopted learning standards for a subject, the local governing board, or its designee, shall determine learning standards for the successful completion of that subject; or
    • (b) Satisfactory demonstration by a student of proficiency/mastery, as defined by written district policy, of the state's learning standards.

No. The new section of rule (WAC 180-51-051) adopted by SBE in September 2020 did not change the  existing law (WAC 180-51-050(1)(b)) which requires a district to adopt a written policy in order to provide mastery-based credit. Districts still need to adopt a written policy before providing mastery/competency-based credit, but, districts do not need to have their local district policy approved by SBE.

The Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) provides resources to school district boards to help them in implementing new policies. One of the resources that WSSDA provides is model policies—and WSSDA has created subject-specific model policies for mastery-based crediting for all subject areas that have state learning standards.

The MBL Work Group has frequently discussed the importance of providing learning opportunities (including sharing of best practices) for educators, to be able to implement MBL opportunities widely. As the MBL work moves forward in our state, the work group hopes to be able to provide resources to districts in the future around best practices. If you have suggestions about mastery-based best practices that you would like to share with the work group, please email Alissa Muller (who provides staff support to the work group).

Washington State does not have a seat hour requirement as part of the definition of a credit—so there is not a state requirement to provide a specified number of hours of instruction before awarding a student a credit. Once a student demonstrates they have met the state learning standards for a course, it is appropriate to award the student the credit. Districts may define credit according to seat time, but this approach does not align with MBL.

Our state’s funding and allocation model does have certain time requirements. Because of this, MBL could have funding implications. In E2SHB 1599 that created the MBL Work Group, SBE and OSPI were tasked by the Legislature to develop enrollment reporting guidelines to address these challenges. However, in 2020, legislation passed creating the Innovative Learning Pilot Program (SSB 6521). Read more about this program in Appendix 2 of the MBL Work Group’s 2020 Report.

The endorsement a teacher holds is not a determining factor in whether or not a student can earn high school credit in a particular subject area. The awarding of credit is based on the learning standards addressed in the course (WAC 180-51-050). If the district determines a particular course addresses high school learning standards, then the district may award high school credit in the amount and in the subjects that the district deems appropriate according to the depth and breadth of learning. In some MBL models where a course addresses more than one content area’s learning standards, the course is team taught by experts in each content area. 

Generally, students receive one credit per one-year course, or one-half credit for a semester course. However, the amount of credit awarded is locally determined, and should be based on the breadth and depth of learning standards addressed.

A district may design a single course, for which the student earns one credit, but meets more than one subject area graduation requirement—such as a course that is a Career and Technical Education course equivalency, or a course that is locally determined to meet more than one subject area graduation requirement per WAC 180-51-025.

A district could design a learning experience where students receive instruction during one course period, but the breadth and depth of learning standards addressed and the work the student does is determined locally to be the equivalent of more than one course. Students may demonstrate their learning through a mastery-based assessment. In this case, the student may earn more than one credit.

Districts should develop a thoughtful process, based on learning standards, that relies on the subject area content experts in the district for any subject that is taught with a multidisciplinary approach, where students may meet more than one subject area graduation requirements. The development of high-quality Career and Technical Education course equivalencies could be used as a model for the process for development of other multidisciplinary approaches.

Care should be taken in transcribing such courses to minimize the risk of a negative consequence to the student, such as a transcript being misinterpreted by an admissions office of an institution of higher education. As much as possible, the individual student’s transcript should be evidence of the student meeting minimum admission standards for any postsecondary institution that the student is interested in attending.

Transcribing courses that meet more than one subject area is a challenge, and the transcript may need to change to be able to accurately reflect the student’s record of course-taking and the meeting of their subject distribution requirements. SBE will continue to partner with higher education, and work with OSPI on the transcript.

As this is an ongoing process, SBE will continue to work with partners to communicate to students and families, as well as work with OSPI and higher education partners on transcript issues.

Page last updated: January 2021.