The academic program uses a Performance-Based/Mastery Learning approach to education. This model assures mastery of specific skills and knowledge involving both individual and group instruction. The educational philosophy is founded upon the premises that: 1) All students can succeed. 2) Success breeds success. 3) It is the responsibility of the school to provide the conditions for success.
The American curriculum and instructional materials are reviewed subject by subject on a seven year cycle system-wide.
The Academic Program
Quality Schools International has a strong belief that all students can succeed.
QSI departs from traditional schools in that it is not as much concerned about “time” being the “defining” factor of student learning. In most schools, students are given a certain amount of time to complete learning in a subject, and then students are assessed on their performance. In QSI, time is used as a resource, so the outcomes that are designed to develop students into well-educated and well-adjusted individuals are thoroughly mastered.
In the QSI model of learning, a student either masters the outcomes in each area, or the student is simply not finished. When a student achieves mastery level, he/she is immediately rewarded by receiving credit for the outcome. Therefore, QSI applies only mastery grades of “A” or “B,” or “P” (still in Progress). QSI recognizes that not everyone will master outcomes at the same rate. Many will be able to finish an outcome rather quickly–they will be allowed to work on a selective outcome and gain credit for doing so. Others will take longer to achieve mastery level—and they will be provided the time necessary to do so. In other words, students have more than one chance to be successful. The learned outcomes needed at mastery level are clearly defined and clearly stated. No trick questions! QSI believes in “teaching what we test, and testing what we teach”.
Quality Schools International has designed Exit Outcomes that are the basis of the entire curriculum. These Exit Outcomes fall into three categories: Success Orientations, Competencies, and Knowledge. Although these categories are related, and are in many ways interdependent, the following three verbs give definition to the Exit Outcomes:
Success Orientations - 'To Believe'
It is important to learn more than the “academics.” QSI feels it is equally important that the often hidden part of the curriculum, what QSI calls Success Orientations, be a vital part of the entire QSI school experience.
Success for All is the motto of Quality Schools International. This is more than just a slogan. Research indicates, and our experience confirms, that successful people have developed personal orientations that lead to success. Personal habits, the ability to interact successfully with others, reliability, responsibility, diligent work habits, promptness, keeping your word, kindness, and other factors in this realm are at least as important as the knowledge one learns and the competencies one gains. Success in these orientations rests first and foremost in the home; however, the success orientations are actively encouraged and taught in virtually all areas of the QSI school curriculum with the view of making them a vital part of one’s life pattern. The role of QSI is to reinforce these efforts of the home.
Success Orientation behaviors are evaluated independently from academic assessments. Academic assessments are given solely on the basis of your performance in the specified outcomes. Evaluations of the success orientations are based on situations within the jurisdiction of the school, and they are awarded through a consensus by the professional staff members. The seven Success Orientations are:
- Group Interaction
- Aesthetic Appreciation
- Kindness / Politeness
- Independent Endeavor
- Concern for Others
Success in these orientations leads to success in life!
Competencies - 'To Do'
In recent times, there has been a tremendous information explosion of scientific and technological advances. It becomes increasingly important one develops competencies that provide the tools to cope with the present age. To become productive participants in modern society, one needs skills related to these advances.
Particularly important are higher order thinking skills. Skills related to the arts and physical fitness are important toward a view to beauty and quality of life.
Quality Schools International considers mastery in each of the seven competencies listed below essential to personal success in life.
- Numeracy and Mathematical Skills
- Verbal and Written Communication Skills
- Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
- Decision-Making and Judgment Skills
- Commercial Skills
- Psychomotor Skills
- Fine Arts Skills
Knowledge - 'To Know'
In the modern world there has been a vast and continuous increase in knowledge. It is impossible to know everything. One has to carefully choose the things considered essential for a person educated in modern society. QSI believes it is better to engage in the study of less information and gain mastery rather than cover large amounts of information superficially without mastery.
In order to develop competencies, one must have a firm foundation of facts and knowledge. Certain facts must be memorized and used as tools in gaining additional knowledge and in developing competencies. Additional knowledge is gained by building upon and combining fundamental facts and bits of knowledge. This happens by hearing, seeing, and experiencing in learning situations, followed by practice and repeated exposure. Some of the ways this happens are through dialogue, questioning, experimentation, risk-taking, and group activities.
In the realm of knowledge, QSI has identified seven areas. Mastery of these Exit Outcomes will lead to a successful school experience in Quality Schools International.
English / Literature
Creative and Applied Arts
Languages Other Than English
Personal Health and World Environmental Issues
The schools of Quality Schools International (QSI) use a model of education based upon student performance. An outline of the implementation in these schools follows:
THE IMPLICATIONS OF QSI’S THREE FOUNDATIONAL BELIEFS
All students can experience success in their learning.
QSI defines academic success as performing at a minimal level that would traditionally earn a “B” grade. The system for evaluation is mastery at an “A” or “B” level, or a “P” which means the student is still in progress toward mastery in a particular unit.
There is a relationship for any student between the time spent on learning and practicing, and that student’s level of performance. Rather than employing an extensive grading system, such as A, B, C, D, E, or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. to record varying performance levels, QSI believes that the amount of time each student spends on a unit of study can vary considerably as each works toward achieving an “A” or “B” mastery.
The QSI curriculum identifies core units that make up courses. (In most courses there are ten (10) units in a year’s course.) It is expected that most students will achieve mastery in these core units within the school year. Higher performing students may master not only the core units, but selective units as well. This is shown on the status reports. Some students will need to take advantage of the many opportunities provided for students to utilize extra time to master the units.
Some examples of ways for a student to find extra time to work on a unit include:
- Using time from another course in which that student is performing well and therefore does not need the full class time to master units. (i.e. a student who is doing well in a reading unit may take some of that time to work on challenges they have encountered in a mathematics unit, or vice versa.)
- Using some time at recess or lunch to spend with a teacher or to do some practice in an area that they find challenging.
- Formal “safety netting” sessions after school where teachers stay after the normal school day to work with students who need extra assistance.
- The administration may schedule additional time for a student to work in a specific area of study.
- Younger students may seek the help of older students on a formal or informal basis.
- A student may spend more time at home in the evenings or on weekends working on areas that they find challenging. On occasion, students set themselves up with study groups or peer tutors.
- Some may hire tutors to help them.
There will be occasions when a student will be engaged in a course for more than one academic year. A student’s progress may be updated daily on the computerized status report program. This is available at any time. In order to ensure that parents, students, and staff are well informed of the progress that a student is making, student status reports are sent home five times per year. Parent-teacher conferences are also scheduled three times a year, once each term.
Success breeds success
QSI believes that there is a definite connection between how a student perceives their performance in a subject and how they actually perform in that subject. Students who consistently experience failure are unlikely to see themselves as successful. It is very important to break cycles of failure. One of the best ways to do this is to place students in situations where they will begin to experience success.
Following admission to the school, students are given an assessment to determine their level of performance in mathematics, reading, and writing. The results of these assessments are used to help determine the level of instruction that would be best for the students in the core courses. Based on these assessments, students are placed at the appropriate levels for achievement in each of the core courses. Students remain with their chronological age group for homeroom. They attend all courses not in the core group with their homeroom.
The progress of students who are placed in instructional groups below their age level is monitored. Once mastery is achieved, they are moved to their appropriate level. Students whose lack of English skills would prevent them from finding success in the main classroom are assigned to the Intensive English department. Here very small teacher-student ratios exist. Students will exit from Intensive English in stages.
It is the responsibility of the school to provide the conditions for success.
QSI believes that more learning will occur if students have a desire to learn, have positive feelings concerning the school environment, and have success in their work. A comfortable atmosphere of caring and acceptance is considered important. Students are encouraged to strive for excellence and creativity. An aesthetically pleasing environment, with a view to appreciation of beauty and order, enhances this. Student possibility of success increases when they work at the appropriate level of difficulty and sense positive expectations from well-qualified, experienced, and caring educators.
To achieve these conditions, QSI takes on the responsibility:
- to recruit educators who have a love for children, who have positive expectations of children, and who are willing to give the time and energy necessary to meet the needs of individual students.
- to employ educators who have acceptable values and who believe that their life style should be a positive influence on their students.
- to employ educators directly from outside of the country, if necessary, to provide experienced and successful educators for specific positions.
- to employ enough educators to maintain reasonably small class sizes.
- to provide facilities that support academic and activity programs.
- to assess each student in reading, mathematics, and writing upon initial enrollment to assure a proper entry level in these courses.
- to encourage parental support of the school with a view toward enhanced learning and the development of positive student attitudes.
To provide these conditions, the staff at QSI schools takes on the responsibility:
- to continually assess the students in all areas of learning to assure mastery.
- to ensure students know what learning tasks are expected.
- to provide appropriate learning experiences and allow students sufficient time on tasks to be able to experience success.
- to provide reteaching experiences if mastery is not achieved.
- to reward students equally for mastery.
- to evaluate students in a way that encourages self-growth rather than competition against other students’ achievements.
- to inspire students toward actualization of accomplishments in excellence and creativity.
- to provide a positive school atmosphere by working with a cooperative spirit supporting one another and encouraging a high morale and efficiency within the staff.
- to incorporate differentiated teaching methods and styles within the classroom.
THREE FOUNDATIONAL BELIEFS
- QSI believes that all students can experience success in their learning including higher order thinking skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.
- QSI believes that success breeds success.
- QSI believes that it is the school’s responsibility to provide the conditions for success.
This success oriented way of operating a school leads to optimum learning and to happy and motivated students. Using knowledge of educational research, these schools are student performance-based rather than ‘time-based’ or ‘calendar-based’. Teachers and students in QSI schools use time as a resource to reach mastery of clearly-defined objectives (unit outcomes) rather than using time as a boundary condition to determine when learning begins and ends. Our teachers are expected to employ instructional practices of excellence, however the measure of success is not how well the teacher teaches, but how well the students learn.
The curriculum is based upon these objectives which are designed down from the school’s Exit Outcomes.
There are four levels of outcomes as follows:
- Exit Outcomes - In the beginning of the restructuring process these were developed for Sanaa International School and subsequently for QSI’s other schools. These were formulated in weekly meetings for an entire school year by a voluntary ‘core group’. The starting point was to imagine our definition of a model graduate and then write what that graduate would know, would be able to do, and would be like. This led to dividing the Exit Outcomes into three parts: Knowledge, Competencies, and Success Orientations. From this the school’s overall curriculum is developed. QSI particularly stresses success orientations which include trustworthiness, responsibility, concern for others, kindness/politeness, group interaction, aesthetic appreciation, and independent endeavor.
- Program Outcomes - These are derived from the Exit Outcomes and outline the school’s curriculum in each of the seven departments (English, Mathematics, Cultural Studies, Science, Languages other than English, Creative and Applied Arts, and Personal Health). Each course (8 year old reading, biology, algebra, etc.) is identified in the Program Outcomes
- Course Outcomes - These are derived from the Program Outcomes and give a more detailed description of each course and include information on materials available for the course.
- Unit Outcomes - Each course is divided into essential unit outcomes which are designed to require from 12 to 18 class periods for the student to attain mastery. These consist of a general statement and a series of measurable objectives (segment outcomes) which are used by the teacher and student to identify what the student must demonstrate in order to receive credit for the unit. Each unit has an evaluation instrument (usually two equivalent versions) used to determine student mastery and level of success. This may be a paper/pencil test, project, performance, or other means of determining student success.
Alignment – The teacher teaches, the materials support, and the mastery demonstrations test the objectives of the unit outcome. In other words teachers teach what they test and test what they teach. To do otherwise is not ethical. We want Mastery Learning, not Mystery Learning.
Expanded Opportunities - Students differ in time needed to attain mastery on a unit outcome. A variety of ways are employed to allow a student the time necessary, while those who need less time are able to engage in selective outcomes and receive additional credits.
Credentialing – Aligned with this structure is the reporting system. Mastery of each unit is evaluated at the time of completion with an ‘A’ or ‘B’ (mastery grades). Mediocre or poor work is not accepted. Completed work is assigned either ‘A’ ,or ‘B’, or ‘P’ – “You’re not done yet!”. If a student has mastered a unit with an evaluation of ‘B’, he or she may wish to demonstrate a higher level of mastery at a later time in the same school year in order to change the evaluation to an ‘A’. This encourages continued learning. Data is entered in a computer on a daily basis and ‘Status Reports’ can be produced at any time. A time period (quarter, term, semester) is not evaluated; student performance in each unit outcome in which a student is engaged is evaluated.
This results in enhanced student learning and high student motivation as students are rewarded for their successes.
QSI Suriname uses a mastery learning approach to teaching. It is a well-researched practice with strong evidence for being highly effective where students learn more information than traditional school methods which receive a percentage grade to pass and move on. Mastery Learning is not a new concept but is starting to become the model for schools looking to reach all students in a more engaging and meaningful way. The idea is simple. In a traditional school, students can pass their courses and miss 40%, 30%, 20%, 10%, and even 5% of the course content. In Mastery Learning schools, we care about the students mastering 100% of the course content. We believe that these gaps in learning, if left unchecked, turn into deficits, difficulties, and frustrations in learning in the future.
- What is Mastery Learning?
- Why Mastery Learning?
- How does mastery learning support student achievement?
- Why don’t all schools teach to mastery?
What is Mastery Learning?
Mastery Learning is an educational approach in which students must achieve mastery of a subject before moving forward to learn subsequent information about that subject; learning builds on established understanding. Students are given the time and support they need to reach mastery.
Time is a Resource
Most education programs have some system of separating students based on academic achievement. It is acceptable for most school systems to teach all students the same things, to give identical exams to assess student learning, and then to observe, record, and report the differences in student achievement. In this scenario, performance becomes the focused variable. In mastery learning, time becomes the focused variable and changes with the intention of increasing all student performance. Time is not an indicator OF success but a tool FOR success. As such, it becomes one of the most valuable tools for students and teachers. All students are different and enter the classroom with varying levels of language fluency, emotional intelligence, work ethic, curiosity, aptitude for their studies, and degrees of content comprehension. It stands to reason that not all students will be able to reach a high standard of performance at the same time. As a result of varying the time indicator for success, more students are able to demonstrate proficiency and achievement at higher levels throughout the year. As the quality and quantity of time work together to provide a positive learning environment, there is a shift in the perception of time. It is now used as a tool FOR learning that simultaneously develops and promotes a growth mindset. This shift in mindset leads to a solid foundation of learning and a healthy perspective of success that will benefit students throughout their education and careers.
Instruction at the Appropriate Level
We believe that success builds upon success. When students master all the learning objectives in one unit, they move onto the next unit. Learning at a level that is too easy may lead to boredom, and learning at a level that is too difficult often leads to frustrations. When students come to a QSI school for the first time, they will take placement assessments in mathematics, reading, and writing. After our initial placement assessment, it may be necessary to do follow up assessments. This process helps the school know just the right placement for new students to be in the right place for successful learning. Teachers use a variety of instructional strategies to ENGAGE all students as they explore the content within each unit.
Assessment FOR Learning
Traditional education systems often identify the gaps without any plan or process to fill them. Mastery learning adheres to the principle that students must demonstrate proficiency or mastery in knowledge, content, and skills. If a student is not able to demonstrate mastery, he or she is provided with additional and differentiated support to first relearn the material and is then reassessed on it. This cycle continues, similar to one-on-one tutoring until the learner has achieved true mastery. In this way, QSI uses assessment FOR learning, rather than just assessment OF learning.
Why Mastery Learning?
How does mastery learning support student achievement?
We expect every student to be successful and we create the conditions for this success through:
- Flexible placement in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics; students are placed in classes where they will be appropriately challenged.
- Instruction based on students’ needs.
- Small class sizes.
- Teaching until mastery is demonstrated (low or inconsistent performance isn’t good enough to move on to the next course).
- Giving students enough time to master new material so that more students demonstrate proficiency and achievement at higher levels throughout the year.
- Requiring more from students; they are challenged to achieve a deep level of understanding rather than passing a course with only a 70% understanding.