Skills-Based Mastery Learning

James Madison High School is committed to creating learning environments where every student’s identity, strengths, and talents are appreciated and cultivated.  We are committed to ensuring instructional and grading practices are consistent throughout the school.  It is vital that all stakeholders clearly understand how a student's evidence of learning is entered into the gradebook and how final course marks are calculated.  Student grades communicate a student’s learning and current level of mastery.  

Madison’s Skills-Based Mastery Learning framework is an approach to instruction, learning, evaluation, assessment, and grading that focuses on a student's demonstrated level of mastery for specific skills:

  • Focus on Mastery: Skills-Based Mastery Learning prioritizes mastery of skills and knowledge over time-bound benchmarks. It encourages students to persist and work towards achieving true understanding and proficiency, rather than just aiming for a certain grade. 
  • Real-World Readiness: Skills-Based Mastery Learning aligns with the demands of the real world, where employers and higher education institutions often look for specific skills and abilities. By emphasizing growth and development of skills and abilities over time, it better prepares students for future success.
  • Deeper Learning: Skills-Based Mastery Learning allows students to delve deeper into content and challenges them by exploring advanced topics thus developing a thorough, more advanced, understanding of the material. Students are given the time and support needed to fully grasp and internalize concepts, leading to greater retention, and application of knowledge.
  • Increased Engagement: Skills-Based Mastery Learning encourages active student engagement by providing ongoing feedback, allowing for self-assessment, and fostering a sense of ownership over learning. This enhances motivation, as students experience success and build confidence in their abilities.
  • Skill-Based Balanced Assessment: Skills-Based Mastery Learning allows for a more comprehensive assessment of a student's abilities. By evaluating specific skills or competencies, it provides a clearer picture of what students know and are able to do with that knowledge.
  • Meaningful Feedback: Skills-Based Mastery Learning places an emphasis on providing meaningful feedback to students. Instead of assigning grades based on completion or percentage correct, it focuses on providing feedback on areas of strength and areas for growth. This allows our students to better identify and understand their progress towards mastery and take ownership of their own learning journey.
  • Flexibility and Differentiation: Skills-Based Mastery Learning supports differentiated instruction, enabling educators to tailor their teaching methods and materials to meet the diverse needs of students. It allows for the use of various instructional strategies and resources, ensuring that students receive the appropriate amount of support and challenge based on their individual learning styles and abilities.

Understanding the Skills-Based Rolling Gradebook

There are two categories of grading: Assessment and Practice.


  • The purpose of an assessment is to evaluate a student's level of mastery of essential course skills and FCPS Portrait of a Graduate (POG) skills at key inflection points during the course.  
  • Assessment is defined as a culminating learning experience (i.e. project, presentation, exhibition, test, essay, etc.). 
  • Assessments may focus on one skill or multiple skills.


  • The purpose of practice is to provide opportunities for ongoing, actionable feedback that moves learning forward and supports a student’s journey toward mastery of essential course skills and POG skills. Practice may include homework, classwork, first drafts and revisions, lab prep, etc. 
    • Homework should serve a positive purpose for learning and support the instructional program. Homework should be a vehicle through which students practice, apply, and/or elaborate on content that they are currently learning. It may also be used as preparation for learning new content.
    • Per FCPS regulation, homework is not to exceed 30 minutes per class block. Reading assignments are considered part of the homework load. Long-term projects may require additional time.
  • When students complete an assessment, practice attempts leading up to the assessment on that skill will be changed to “not for grading.”  By the end of the year practice grades will not count towards a student's final grade.


Grading Timeline:  Grades will be posted within seven school days after the due date with the understanding that major assessments may require additional time to ensure quality feedback.

Grade Calculation: Student grades reflect progress towards mastery.  Each skill will be assessed multiple times throughout the year.  The end of course grade will be calculated by averaging all assessments. 

Reassessment:  Madison has been working directly with FCPS Instructional Services staff to ensure our grading policies are meeting expectations outlined in the FCPS grading policy guidelines.  Madison students are reassessed on skills over time with opportunities for grade replacement rather than a traditional retake on each assessment.  Madison’s reassessment model focuses on decreasing student stress while encouraging the development of mastery over time. 

  • Reassessment is naturally built into the instructional cycle for ALL students over the course of the year, including students who achieve at high levels and want to continuously improve their grade.  Critical to the skills-based mastery learning cycle is that between each skill assessment, students create evidence of their learning and receive actionable feedback from their teacher to move their learning forward before being reassessed on a skill.  
  • Each new assessment grade in a skill will replace the previous assessment grade in that skill if the new grade is higher.  All skill categories are eligible for replacement. The original grade (OG) is recorded in SIS as a “Public Note” to communicate the original mark.  An assignment that is not turned in (NTI) is not considered an attempt and is therefore not eligible for grade replacement and is scored as a zero.  

Late Practice and Assessments: In a rolling gradebook, students will be afforded multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery.  Due dates will be communicated by the teacher in class and can be found in Schoology.  Students should communicate with teachers about the need for flexibility in advance of due dates.  If applicable, teachers and students will work together to determine a reasonable extension and a plan to ensure that students can complete the assignment and receive feedback.   

  • Late practice and assessments will be accepted up to two weeks after the due date with a half letter grade deduction.  Teachers will use the SIS public note “LATE” to denote when an assignment is submitted late. 
  • Late assessments (submitted within two weeks) will be eligible for reassessment. 
  • If a student does not turn in an assessment within two weeks of the due date, misses an assessment or continues to have outstanding practice or assessments, an “NTI” code (valued as a “0”) may be entered in the gradebook and the assessment will not be eligible for reassessment. 
  • Students who turn in practice assignments late may not be able to receive feedback from a teacher before an assessment.  

SIS Comment Codes:  The following comments will be used in SIS to communicate exemptions, reassessments, and missing work: 

  • Absent (ABS) (no point value)
  • Excused (EXC) from the assignment (no point value)
  • Submitted For Grading (SFG) used for long-term projects (not yet assessed/scored)
  • Not Turned In (NTI) recorded as a zero “0”; not eligible for reassessment

Public Notes:

  • Late 
  • Original Grade (OG)

Make-Up Work for Absences

Students are fully responsible for completing any missed assignments.  Each day of absence affords at least one school day of makeup work opportunity.  The period of time allowed to make up work may be extended at the discretion of the teacher.

Grading Scales

Practice and assessment grades communicate a student’s progress towards mastery and use letter grades based on the chart below.

Grades posted at the end of the FCPS quarterly cycle are a snapshot of a student's level of mastery at that time. In a rolling gradebook these quarterly snapshots do not average together. Instead, each snapshot represents the cumulative grade the student has in the course at that specific moment in time. These quarterly snapshots and the end-of-year course grades will be calculated within the SIS gradebook and fall within the 4.0 scale as outlined below. (i.e.,  An B+ will fall within the range of 3.1-3.3)

grading chart

Religious Holiday Observances

FCPS and Madison High School respect the diverse religious and cultural heritages of our students.  Therefore, lessons or activities on designated observance days will reinforce previously acquired material or introduce new material provided that the lesson content is made available to students using Schoology.  Lessons will engage students in meaningful learning and will not be the sole opportunity to engage in lessons or activities presented on that day.  Teachers will follow up directly with students who missed the lesson for religious or cultural observance. 

No assessments will be scheduled on observance days.  No graded assignments or activities should be due on the day following a religious and cultural observance day unless it has been announced at least one week prior to the due date.  On-going graded assignments or activities may occur provided that there are opportunities for students who are absent to make up the assignment or activity.

More information regarding Regulation 2234 and assessment practices can also be found on the FCPS website.

Additional Course Considerations

Extra Credit:  Because students will have multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery AND per FCPS policy, no extra points/extra credit will be awarded for any assignments, assessments, or course grades. 

May Testing Window - Expectations for Students:  May is traditionally a month of testing and impacts the pace of instruction across our school community.  Formal instruction, including practice and assessments will continue.  Families should minimize the amount of time students are out of the building.  

End of Course: Courses will not have traditional final exams; however every student is expected to participate in course culminating activities.  Additionally, all students will participate in the MAD WINGS experience for their grade level.

Honor Code

JMHS Honor Statement:  Learning is about the process, not necessarily the outcome. I made my best individual effort and I have not given nor received any unauthorized assistance on this assignment. All of the work presented is my own.

Unauthorized assistance on any school work includes cheating, plagiarizing, lying, and stealing, as well as providing unauthorized assistance to another student.  By submitting work for evaluation or feedback, you represent it as your own intellectual product. You may not submit for evaluation any content (e.g., ideas, text, code, images) that was generated, in whole or in part, by Artificial Intelligence tools unless the teacher has explicitly granted permission to do so. Your teacher will explain to you the uses of AI tools that are permitted or prohibited in this course, including on what specific assignments the use of AI tools are permitted. Submitting content for evaluation that was produced in whole or in part by AI tools, except for the specific purpose(s) and assignment(s) discussed and authorized by the teacher, constitutes an Honor Code infraction. To ensure that an assignment is a student’s own intellectual product, teachers may require specific processes on how to complete assessments, such as having students to complete an assignment exclusively in a Google Document or Slide so that they may review the entire draft history for evidence of composition and editing.  Not following a teacher’s specified process may be considered an honor code infraction.

Infraction process:

  • Teacher determines that a student may have violated the honor code policy.
  • An administrator will decide if the infraction constitutes an honor code warning or violation.
  • Consequences are given for a violation of the honor code policy.
  • View our Honor Code page for additional information.