"I love statistics": How mastery learning changed students' learning

Submitted by display_name_fallback on

Statistics elicit overall student angst, which affects grades, attitude, attrition and learning. Although students attended tutoring, were allowed to re-do homework and engaged in interactive classroom experiences, PSY 230 course retention rate remained at 25%. I used a different pedagogical technique this semester - Mastery Learning - which was used successfully in K-12 grades. Rather than a traditional letter grade or percentage on assignments, students received "not yet" grades and instructor feedback. Resubmissions were accepted as many times as necessary to reach mastery. The result: significant attitude shifts, increased student comprehension, improved grades, decreased attrition and, student ability to apply concepts instead of regurgitating information. Attached are some student's mastery projects, research summary/design, and qualitative data illustrating why students "love statistics." This semester's retention rate (63%) is significantly higher than last semester, x2 (1, N=64)=5.14, p<.05.  More importantly, students reported feeling ownership over the statistical material rather than simply completing a prerequisite.

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Average: 4 (6 votes)


Norma Jimenez Hernandez Fri, 11/17/2017 - 4:00pm

I LOVE this idea of mastery learning, especially as it produces the type of environment where students take ownership of learning statistical material.  Excellent!

Olga Tsoudis Sat, 11/18/2017 - 11:56am

Laura, This is an excellent way for students to learn a more challenging topic!  Smiles Olga

Catherine Cochran Tue, 11/21/2017 - 10:36am


This is great idea!  I love the method of measurement you used.  This created a growth mindset for our students to achieve and accomplish.  This placed the learning in the student's responsibility.  Thank you for sharing!  


Becky Baranowski Tue, 11/21/2017 - 12:18pm

Thank you for the time you took to submit this CATS.  I am interested in learning more about this and would like to meet with you.  As you know, mathematics is difficult for students.  I want to try mastery learning, but here are my concerns, especially since I primarily work with engineering majors.  

1.  Does this set students up for turning in late work?  

2.  Does this set up students to not take the assignment seriously the first time around?  They know they can redo it.    

3.  How much extra work does this make for you, as the instructor, with students turning in material after the deadline until they master the content?  

Like I mentioned, I'd really like to meet with you to discuss this more.  I may consider trying this in one of my calculus classes.  Thanks again for writing this. 

display_name_fallback Tue, 11/21/2017 - 1:10pm

In reply to by Becky Baranowski

Hi Becky! I had the same concerns going into this research/project and I would LOVE to talk to you more in depth. For now:

  1. ​With the way the assignments and expectations were structured, it does not set up students to turn work in late. On the contrary, it pushes them to turn things in on time. All assignments have a due date and if students do not submit on time, they receive a 0. However, if they submit on time, then they can redo/resubmit as many times as necessary until they demonstrate mastery - at which time their assignment grade is changed to 100.
  2. Students took the assignments very seriously, because they quickly learned how much effort it required to redo the assignments. Tutoring visits increased, student study groups formed, and the overall mastery projects were exceptional. I was truly amazed at what the students produced.
  3. The work on the instructor did increase, because I provided very specific feedback for areas of improvement. However, there were deadlines for when materials had to be resubmitted - so I wasn't scrambling to keep track of things. Also, the ownership for resubmissions was placed entirely on the student - students don't have to resubmit anything. Moreover, I didn't lower any of my expectations nor did I inflate or adjust grades - so I enjoyed teaching without resenting students' efforts (or lack of effort, which is more often the case). A latent consequence of this structure was that it helped me, as an instructor, let go of my own frustrations.

When I considered doing this, I was concerned that this was going to flop. It surprised me with how well the class functioned and the quality of the work that students produced. The key component to this seems to be the 1-1 checkins - students did not "buy into" this until AFTER the first check-in. During the focus group, students stated that it wasn't until they felt the instructor cared about them and their learning that their whole attitude towards the class changed. For the first 3 weeks of class, there were a lot of disgruntled students and complaints relayed to the statistics tutors - especially when the students received 0's on their assignment.  Changing students' mindset about learning was the most difficult part - but the results are astounding.

I'm really curious to see if the mastery learning affects their final exam. Last semester, the entire class couldn't complete the practice final during the allotted 2 hours, nor did the students know what statistics to use on each of the 5 word problems. The comprehensive final exam results were terrible and the highest course grade was 84%. I'll submit another CATS once the quantitative part of the project is done. To date, students seem to be able to apply their learning - will know more after the last week of November when they complete their practice final.

I am eager to help you set up a class that will work for you! I'm going to do this again next semester in Statistics. You are also welcome to come to the class and ask the students questions.