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The Idaho State Department of Education recently awarded Fremont County School District #215 a $57,000 Mastery Learning Grant.

The money will cover the cost of teachers’ extra time spent in implementing the program designed to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses.

Fremont County School Superintendent Byron Stutzman announced the grant last week. He reported that Ashton, Henry’s Fork, Parker-Egin and Teton Elementary Schools, North Fremont Jr. and Sr. High Schools and South Fremont High School each received a total of $6,800 split into stipends of $6,300 and $500 for travel expenses. South Fremont High School received at total of $10,880 with $10,080 provided for stipend funds and $800 for traveling expenses.

“Most of the funds are to pay staff a little extra to do the heavy lifting,” he said.

Stutzman said that mastery learning is about helping students — as the name implies — master every concept.

“It’s a different way of looking at student achievement,” he said. “It’s about how a student has mastered a concept. So, if a student can do a concept and improve, then they move on to the next concept.”

Stutzman is working with David Marotz, principal of South Fremont Jr. High School, in overseeing the program.

“It’s focusing more on students’ actual ability to perform (their work) versus whether they’re compliant and handing in their work,” he said.

This year’s grant is considered an “exploration grant,” Marotz said.

“It’s intended to help us explore a mastery learning plan and a timeline for how we want to do this,” he said.

The district will purchase specialized computer software to help with the program.

“It will help us manage the curriculum, so we could track what students are doing and how they’re doing,” Marotz said. “It’s a tool that the teachers will use to house their curriculum.”

The software may also target students’ specific needs, he said.

“Sometimes it’s technology (that helps). Sometimes it’s a little more time or teaching things a different way. It’s doing things hands on,” Marotz said.

Grades, of course, will let teachers know how their students are doing. The mastery program uses scores of 0 to 4 with 4 being advanced, 3 being proficient, 2 basic understanding and 1 showing youth are progressing but can’t continue without assistance.

Children receiving a 2.0 or a ‘C’ shows they need help in that subject, Marotz said.

“A ‘C’ basically means, (the child) understands the basic content and may not know how to apply it,” he said.

It’s at this point where mastery education steps in. Just like any skill, students need to continue working on the subject, Marotz said.

“We just continue to provide support and helping them move toward level 3. We’re given the opportunity to teach them how to apply it. It doesn’t mean they’re failing. They just need more practice on applying it,” he said.

Plans call to work with the Idaho State Department of Education which also means joining forces with 100 other schools across Idaho who are also implementing mastery learning.

“(This) has been evolving for many, many years. The legislature started providing guidance and direction, and this is the direction the state is going,” Marotz said.

Marotz believes that parents and students will like the program.

“It’s much more clear and concise with what the students need to know and do,” he said.

Teachers tell Martoz they like the program.

“They understand the concept. They understand it will be a process of getting there,” he said.

Leadership teams will be created to do extra training and to develop plans.

“It’s done after school hours. Right now, we meet once a week for about 45 minutes to an hour,” Martoz said.

Martoz says he’s thankful the program will provide the extra help for struggling students. The grant is provided for one school year, and from there officials will determine the next step for the school district.

“When you develop your plan for implementation, then you qualify for the next level of implementation. I’m just glad we could do some extra work,” he said.

The Idaho State Department of Education says that the mastery program helps eliminate false assumptions about learning often associated with traditional grades.

“Mastery education gives students the chance to use meaningful content in ways that encourage deeper levels of learning so they acquire the knowledge, skills, and characteristics essential for success in a future we can only imagine. When students demonstrate that they are proficient under rigorous expectations, they take greater ownership and responsibility for learning.

For more information on the program visit: https://www.sde.idaho.gov/mastery-ed/.