Mastery Learning: Policies and Procedures that Help it Work

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Denise Lujan

Currently the Director of Developmental Math at the University of Texas at El Paso, she has worked for UTEP for 15 years and has been the director for Developmental Math for 10 years.

Denise received her Bachelor’s from West Texas A&M University in Math in 1988 and her Master’s in Educational Leadership in 2008 with a focus on Developmental Education.  She has been very involved in TADE (Texas Association of Developmental Education) and was a board member from 2008 to 2014.  She is a member of NADE, (National Association of Developmental Education), was the Co-Chair for the NADE 2014 national conference held in Dallas, and Served as the NADE Board Secretary from 2014 to 2016.  She is currently a member of the Emeritus NADE Board.  She is a member of Texas College Reading and Learning Association and was honored with the award for Developmental Educator of the year in 2016. 

She has presented at local, state, and national conferences, including the National Math Summit held at NADE 2016 in Anaheim.  She has presented at many different colleges and universities around the country on the use of ALEKS and developing summer bridge programs, Non-Course Based Options, and successful implementation of individualized programs.  In 2014, The University of Texas at El Paso Developmental Math department won the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Star Award for contribution to the state’s Closing the Gap Plan.

All students at the University of Texas at El Paso advised to take developmental mathematics receive course work that is based on the results of their initial skills assessment, and that is tailored to their individual learning needs and preferences. The Developmental Math Department uses the ALEKS® system, which applies adaptive assessment and principles of mastery learning, for assessment and teaching (McGraw Hill Companies, 2016). The system determines quickly and precisely what students know and what they need to learn. Then an individualized learning path with embedded mastery-level criterion is devised for the student. So students entering with developmental math needs are diagnostically assessed and given a unique starting point for skills development. Because of this individualized path for learning, the department has implemented procedures that help students proceed through their coursework. It is these procedures listed below that are critical to getting UTEP students through their individualized paths.

Clearly Defined Benchmarks and Attendance Policy

  • Benchmarks are given to the student at the beginning of the semester for both hour and topic goals on ALEKS. Students must meet one of these to remain on target. Benchmarks occur every week and are tracked closely by faculty. If a students miss a benchmark in both hour and topic for two weeks in a row, they are dropped from the class.
  • Attendance is required. Students are only allowed to miss two weeks’ worth of class before being dropped. We do, however, offer a “make-up” policy. If students miss class, they can attend at another agreed upon time.
  • Flexible Proctored Finals: A proctored final exam is scheduled for any student who reaches 90% of their topics.
  • Coaching and Mentoring: Instructors coach and mentor students, thereby providing discussion points concerning course progress, university goals, and time management.
  • Special Program Students: At the beginning of every semester, department faculty identify students who are a part of a unique program at UTEP, such as International Students, Athletes, Veterans, and others. We work with the program coordinators by keeping them abreast of the student’s progress.
  • Aleks Student Notebook, ASNB: The Developmental Math faculty created and published an Aleks Student Notebook. This notebook provides structure for note-taking and can be utilized by the student on the final exam.
  • Collaboration with Other Departments: The Developmental Math department has worked with the Provost’s, Registrar’s, Testing and Advising offices to implement programs that are outside of the norm in terms of part-of-term, grading, recruiting, registration, etc. By using the expertise of these departments, we are able to help students move forward in their course.

Mastery Based Instruction has benefited UTEP students in two important ways. First, by allowing students the time needed on content to master it and, second, because the individual nature allows the department to implement programs that help students move through their coursework. One example of this is the UTEP Extender Program. The Extender Program is a two-week program after the semester is over that allows students who meet strict requirements the ability to complete their coursework. The program has been in operation for five years and has helped over 850 students move on to their next math course. This could not have been done had it not been for the Mastery Based Instruction and individual paths.