Sep 12, 2008


Mastery Learning is an alternative teaching
method which is designed to provide corrective instruction for students who do
not reach a pre-set level of “mastery” of material. A randomized, experimental
evaluation of Mastery Learning found that it had no impacts on student math
skills. Students who worked in teams during classroom sessions had higher math
scores than students who worked individually. A second experiment found that
students who were in a mastery learning condition subsequently required less
time to master a new unit than control students.


Target population:
9th graders from inner-city schools

Mastery learning is
a general concept which can be applied in many programs; this is one of many
programs which are based on mastery learning principles. This Mastery Learning
program consists of 26 separate math worksheets and quizzes. Each session,
teachers follow a prescribed lesson plan of instruction and teaching, individual
worksheets for students, formative quizzes which are used to assess student
mastery, corrective instruction, and summative quizzes. Students who do not
achieve at least 80% on their formative quizzes receive additional corrective
instruction on the day’s lesson until they are able to reach the pre-set
achievement level or until the teacher decides to move on to the next lesson.


Slavin, R. E. &
Karweit, N. L. (1984). Mastery learning and student teams: A factorial
experiment in urban general mathematics classes. American Educational
Research Journal, 21
(4), 725-736.

Evaluated population:
588 students in ninth grade general math classes. 1,092 students were initially selected for the study, but many did not have usable pre- or post-test data due to sample attrition, absenteeism, and student mobility. In a supplemental analysis of partial results, the researchers found that sample attrition did not differentially affect the sample. Students were selected from 16 inner-city schools in Philadelphia. The sample was 76% black, 19% white, 6% Latino, and 1% Asian. At pre-test, the students averaged math achievement scores equivalent to those of students in 4th grade.

Teachers in 16 inner-city schools were randomly assigned to one of four
conditions (mastery, team, team and mastery, and control). All conditions used
the same set of curricula which consisted of 26 math worksheets and quizzes. In
the mastery condition, each classroom session consisted of teaching, individual
worksheets, formative quizzes, corrective instruction, and summative quizzes.
The quizzes were used to determine if the student had reached the cutoff of 80%
mastery of the material. Students who did not reach the pre-set 80% cutoff
received corrective instruction in the lesson. In the team condition, each
session consisted of teaching, worksheet study in four-member groups, and
quizzes. Scores on quizzes were compared to individual and team past
performance; and high scoring teams were rewarded with recognition in classroom
newsletters. The team and mastery condition sessions consisted of teaching,
team studying, formative quizzes, corrective instruction within teams for
individuals not achieving a score of 80% on quizzes, and summative quizzes.
Again, team scores were tracked over time. The control condition consisted of
teaching, individual worksheets, and quizzes. There was no corrective
instruction, summative quizzes, or group work in this condition.

Students were evaluated on math skills at pre-test and post-test, directly after
the treatment was complete. The instrument used for assessing math skills was
the Mathematics Computations and Concepts and Applications subscales of the
Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS). The researchers note that the
analyses used (2×2 random effects, nested analysis of covariance, with pre-test
as covariate) produce estimates that are quite conservative and can be
generalized to this population of students. Both treatments that used group
learning had higher scores on math skills than the treatments that did not use
group learning. Mastery learning had no impacts on student math skills.

The researchers
note that a limitation of their study was a rather high rate of attrition due to
absenteeism and student mobility. To remedy this, the researchers performed a
pre-test analysis of students and found no significant differences between
students who submitted post-test data and those that did not.

Note: Although
random assignment was conducted at the classroom level, researchers used a
conservative analysis method to interpret data.

Anderson, L. W.
(1976). An empirical investigation of individual differences in time to learn.
Journal of Educational Psychology, 68(2), 226-233.

82 eighth graders from a middle-class suburb in the Midwest.
Students came from one of three eighth grade classrooms.

Random assignment was done at the classroom level with 26, 27, and 29 students
completing the entire experiment in the three classrooms. One of the classrooms
was assigned to the mastery learning condition and two were assigned to the
control condition. Students in each of the three classrooms were given a test
booklet at the end of each of three learning units which they were instructed to
finish in a certain time period. In the mastery learning classroom, students
who did not achieve 85% correct on a unit test were required to complete review
exercises which related to the problems which they answered incorrectly. After
completing these problems, they were given a review test which was similar to
the original test. If the student still did not achieve the 85% level, they
received individual help from a tutor and then completed a third test. Students
in control classrooms received a test at the conclusion of each of the 3 units
and did not receive any additional help after any of the tests.

Students in the mastery learning classroom eventually required less total time
to learn a new unit compared to students in the control condition. This
occurred because students who lagged behind initially received additional help
to reach the criterion and subsequently spent less time “off-task” compared with
their counterparts in the control condition who did not receive additional help
to reach mastery of a unit before proceeding to the next unit.



Kulik, C. C., Kulik,
J. A., & Bangert-Drowns, R. L. (1990). Effectiveness of mastery learning
programs: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 60(2),

Slavin, R. E. &
Karweit, N. L. (1984). Mastery learning and student teams: A factorial
experiment in urban general mathematics classes. American Educational
Research Journal, 21
(4), 725-736.

KEYWORDS: Adolescents, High School, Males and Females (Co-ed), Black/African American, School-based, Urban, Mathematics, Academic Achievement/Grade,

information last updated 9/12/08