Skills-Based Mastery Learning

A Parent's Guide

Our Community Coming Together to Support Student Learning

For several years, Madison content teams have collaborated to create learning opportunities for students that provide them with a deeper learning experience. To accomplish this, Madison staff are dedicated to focusing on the essential learnings, skills, and competencies that students need in order to be prepared for the world beyond Madison. 

As students participate in course specific learning experiences, they are afforded multiple opportunities to practice skills and demonstrate their understandings.  Students will receive authentic feedback from teachers on their journey toward mastery of each skill. The key in this process is giving students the opportunity to practice in low risk situations before culminating assessments.

The purpose of grades is to communicate a student’s progress towards mastery for each essential skill.  Therefore, skills-based grading in a rolling gradebook reflects a student’s current level of content understanding on their path to mastering specific skills. By the end of the year, the rolling gradebook will accurately reflect the student’s level of mastery in each skill area.

Take a moment to view the video below that explains our journey to skills-based mastery learning at Madison HS.

Common Mastery Learning Language


A global learning statement that encompasses several standards and skills, serving as an authentic assessment where student learning is applied. (VA PoG & FCPS PoG)

Essential Skill

The most important standards and skills for our students to know and be able to do by the end of the year.


The standards for a course as determined by the state or district - in our case, the Virginia Standards of Learning.

Rolling Gradebook 

A rolling gradebook is a cumulative document.  A student’s final grade is determined by a combination of all assignments and assessments throughout the year, regardless of the quarter the work was completed, and is not an average of quarters marks.  The grade posted at the end of each traditional quarter is a snapshot of a student’s current progress in the course. 

All courses at Madison operate using a Skills-Based Rolling Gradebook or a Traditional Rolling Gradebook. The specific organization of each is described below.

Skills-Based Rolling Gradebook

Grading Categories: There are two categories of grading in our Skills-Based Rolling Gradebook.

  • Assessment:
    • The purpose of an assessment is to evaluate a student's level of mastery of essential course skills and POG skills at key inflection points and/or endpoints during the course.  
    • Assessment is defined as a culminating learning experience (i.e. project, presentation, exhibition, test, etc.). 
  • Practice:
    • The purpose of practice is to monitor a student's progress toward mastery of essential course skills and POG skills.
    • Practice is defined as student learning experiences that prepare students for culminating learning experiences/assessments.   
      • Teachers will use practice to:
        • provide ongoing feedback to students toward mastery of specific skills
        • identify areas of need and to inform instructional practices
      • Students will use practice to:
        • identify their progress towards mastery and target skills that need more practice
        • Set goals and advocate for their learning 
    • When students complete an assessment, practice attempts leading up to the assessment on that skill will be changed to “not for grading.” 
    • Students must complete practice attempts for the current unit to be eligible for skill reassessment/grade replacements.

  Essential Skills:

  • Each assignment in SIS will correspond to an essential skill for the course. Teachers have provided in their syllabus specific skills that will be assessed throughout the year.

  Grade Calculation: Student grades should reflect progress towards mastery. 

  • Each skill will be assessed multiple times throughout the year.
  • The three most recent assessment attempts for the skill will be averaged and any earlier attempts will be changed to “not for grading.” 
  • At the end of the course the teacher will determine a final grade for each skill and a Student’s final course mark will represent the average of the final grade on each skill.

Traditional Rolling Gradebook

Grading Categories: There are two categories of grading in our Traditional Rolling Gradebook. 

  • Assessment: (80% or 100%)
    • The goal of assessments is to evaluate a student's level of mastery of essential course skills/content and POG skills at key inflection points and/or endpoints during the course.  
    • Assessment is defined as a culminating learning experience (i.e. project, presentation, exhibition, test, etc.). 
  • Practice: (20% or 0%)
    • The goal of practice is to evaluate a student's progress toward mastery of essential course content, essential skills, and POG skills.  
    • For a student to be eligible for reassessment, they must complete the practice(s) for that assessment. 
    •  Practice is defined as Homework, Classwork, and Quizzes
      • Homework counts for no more than 10% of a student's final grade 
      • Teachers will use practices as evidence to:
        • Provide ongoing feedback to students
        • Identify areas of need and inform instructional decisions
    • Students will use practices to:
      • Identify progress towards mastery and target skills that need more practice
      • Set goals and advocate for their learning 

Grade Calculation: Student grades should reflect progress towards mastery. 

  • Practice grades will be recorded in SIS to show student progress towards mastery of content or skill as a unit progress towards a culminating assessment/learning experience.
  • If the assessment mark is higher than a student’s practice attempts, the higher mark will replace lower practice attempts. 
  • If a student’s assessment mark is lower than their practice marks, the practice marks will remain and the student will have the opportunity to reassess part or all (if necessary) of the culminating assessment/learning experience per reassessment guidelines.  
  • The student's practice and assessment attempts will average across the entire year. 
  • Practice grades will be in the gradebook to communicate progress until there is an Assessment to demonstrate mastery.  
  • Once a unit is completed within the late work guidelines, no practice marks will be replaced.  

Grading Communication & Scale

Parents and students can access grades in our Student Information System (“SIS”) at any time.  Parents and students can view SIS information on the FCPS website (ParentVUE or StudentVUE). Parents and students can also view individual assignments for each course in Schoology. Although some grades might be visible in Schoology, grades are only accurately reported in SIS. Both parents and students are encouraged to reach out to a teacher if they have questions about what they see in SIS.

Grading Scale

Grading Frequently Asked Questions

What do grades represent?

The grade earned indicates the level of mastery in accordance with the FCPS Program of Studies or the College Board’s Advanced Placement curriculum for each subject area.  Grades will be posted within seven school days after the due date with the understanding that major projects/papers may require additional time to ensure quality feedback.  

How will we know when assignments need to be turned in?

Teachers will enter due dates for each entry in SIS and Schoology. Additional assignment information can be found in Schoology. If you can’t find what you are looking for, please reach out to the teacher.

What comments will teachers use in their gradebooks?

The following comments will be used in SIS to communicate to parents and students the status of assessments recorded in the gradebook:

  • Absent (no point value)
  • Excused from the assignment (no point value)
  • Late
  • Retake grade
  • Submitted for grading (for long-term projects)
  • Not Handed In (carries a weight of zero)

Do we offer extra credit?

Per FCPS policy, James Madison High School does not award extra points/extra credit for any assignments or assessments.

How will grades be calculated?

Teachers will communicate on their course syllabi which of the following types of rolling gradebook will be used, as well as the corresponding weighted categories.

What are final exams like?

There will be no final exam category in the grade book.  Additionally, there will be no traditional culminating exam 4th quarter.  In lieu of a traditional final exam,  each student will participate in either a celebration or presentation of learning where students have the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the year, or the opportunity to share their Portrait of a Graduate Portfolios. Seniors may qualify to participate in the WINGS Program in lieu of final exams.

How do quality points work for honors and AP classes?

For students who pass an AP/HNs course, an additional 1.0/.5 quality point will be added to the quality point value assigned to the final mark for purposes of calculating GPA.  Students enrolled in AP courses are strongly encouraged to take the culminating external examination associated with the course.  These standardized examinations are designed to measure content and skill mastery and a successful score may earn credit and advanced placement in college.  Information for students who choose not to participate in an AP exam for a course in which they are currently enrolled will be provided later in the school year.  

What if a student submits an assignment late?

Late work will be accepted to document learning/competency.  Students who turn work in late may incur a maximum deduction of a half-letter grade (ex: B+ to B).  Due dates can be found in the course calendar in Schoology.  Students should communicate with teachers about the need for flexibility regarding specific assignments in advance of due dates. Teachers and students will work together to determine a reasonable extension.

For formative assessments, late work will be accepted with a deduction if submitted by the end of the curricular unit.  For summative assessments, late work will be accepted with a deduction up to the end of the curricular unit OR within two weeks after the due date, whichever is later. If a student continues to have outstanding summative assignments, and parent contact has been made, an “NHI” code (valued at an F) may be entered in the gradebook.   

Will students be able to retake or revise assessments?

Teachers will identify in advance which summative assessments are eligible for a retake.  For these assessments, at least one new opportunity to demonstrate mastery shall be provided to any student who scores below 3.4 on a 4.0 scale or 90% on the 100 point scale (less than an A-) and completes corrective action determined by the subject team.  Assessments not eligible for a retake will be articulated in a teacher’s course syllabi.

Is there an honor code at JMHS?


“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.” 

If a teacher determines that a student may have violated the honor code policy, they will contact the parent and the student’s administrator.  The administrator will decide if the infraction constitutes an honor code warning or violation and will assign consequences accordingly. More information on the honor code can be found at this link.  

Who do I contact if I have a question about grading?

Students should reach out to their teacher if they have a question about a grade.  If there are still concerns after the student has contacted the teacher, parents should communicate with the teacher directly.  The expectation is that teachers respond to parent concerns within 48 hours. You may also reach out to your child’s school counselor who can help facilitate a conversation with the teacher.

The 4.0 grading practice is a departure from grading practices in previous years. Why was this done and what is the benefit of shifting to a 4.0 scale? How will students receive quality feedback through this system?

The 4.0 scale provides students with a more equitable and standardized assessment score. There is a larger variation in the 100 point scale for what an A, A-, B, B+, etc., could be when teachers have the option of a 10 point difference within a letter grade. The 4.0 scale also ensures that students are receiving the higher end of the grade scale. 

Example: A student might receive a 97 as an A in the 100 point scale system in one class and the same student might receive a 95 as an A in the 100 point scale in a different class. The 4.0 scale pre determines that an A, regardless of class or teacher, is a 4.0 and an A-, regardless of class or teacher, is a 3.7. These are the “highest ends of the range”(A = 3.8-40 and A- = 3.4 – 3.7). 

How are teachers providing feedback to students in assessments when students receive a “A” or “B” or “C”? How does the 4.0 scale support teachers providing feedback?

Teachers are providing feedback as usual through formative assessments, grades, and the daily conversations and learning experiences in class. Feedback is one of the most important aspects for teaching and learning regardless of the scale being used, and teachers will continue to provide feedback with formative assessments and practice/preparation assignments. Embedded into the 4.0 scale is often the shift to a standards-based assessment system, where students receive detailed feedback and ongoing assessment opportunities to develop mastery over time on the discrete skills within a larger unit or assessment experience. As students receive grades on the essential standards and skills of a course, they are receiving MORE information and feedback on their skill level in the standards so that teachers can provide more personalized learning opportunities and reassessment opportunities for students in order to support students as they “master” skills and deeply understand content standards over time.

Example: In English 10, the standards of “Identify an Author’s Intended Meaning”, “Provide evidence to support a claim” and “Analyze evidence to explain the author’s intended meaning” are all essential skills within a larger analysis essay assessment. Students receive a score for these essential skills in the grade book on a 4.0 scale. Instead of simply receiving an “88” on an essay, students are provided scores for each skill/standard, such as “thesis statement”, “integration of evidence,” analysis of literary elements”. This provides more specific and concrete feedback and students are able to focus on specific essential skills as they reassess or in the next assessment opportunity. The students are given more information to track their growth in the skills over time.

*Note: at the beginning of the learning experience/unit/year, these skills are “new” to a student or the level/cognitive demand is higher than the previous year or unit, it is common that students may not be proficient at first, which will reflect a lower assessment score. However, the skills-based system provides multiple opportunities for students to continue to develop and reassess the essential skills in order to move toward mastery. Students often have multiple formative assessments before they have a summative assessment.

How does the rolling grade book work?

The rolling grade book’s intent is to ensure that the essential skills for each course are made visible in the gradebook, as well as provide students the opportunity to see their growth over time as it relates to the essential skills. In a course that utilizes rolling gradebook, students are building content knowledge and essential skills over the course of the year, and they are not penalized for their “lack of knowledge” or lower skill level on recursive skills in the beginning of the year. Students’ grades are reflective of their skill level and content knowledge at the end of the year rather than averaging four quarters over the course of the year. This ensures that as the students develop over the year that their first quarter grade does not pull down their overall grade.

  • Example: In English 10, the formative assessments that students experience at this time in the year will be replaced by formative assessment scores later in the quarter and year since students are just now learning and practicing the skills and content through formative assessments. The final grade in English 10 will consist of the student’s summative assessments throughout the year and the last three formative assessment scores for the essential skills and content that the students grow toward mastery of at the end of the year. Quarter grades become interim reporting statements rather than “final” quarter grades. This also allows for teachers and students to follow the pace of learning that is best for students instead of letting the quarter dates dictate the learning pace. For seniors, the rolling grade book is attended to in order to ensure that seniors’ grades are an accurate reflection of their content knowledge and skill ability at the quarter and first semester mark, just as they would with a traditional quarter grading system.   
  • Watch a video about rolling gradebook.  

How has the 4.0 scale, standards-based grading and rolling grade book system been explained to students in classes?

Teachers have common syllabi with common language across the school and departments regarding formative and summative assessments and learning opportunities. Grade level and content level teams have common grading practices.