This California district has the mastery-based learning approach some Florida schools want

From Left, Kevin Chavous, president of K12 Inc, Ben Marcovitz, founder and CEO of Collegiate Academies and Tom Rooney, superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District speak about how personalized learning has improved student achievement.

A school district in Central California is making the kind of changes some Florida schools hope to make – if the law would allow them.

The Lindsay Unified School District has made changes allowing students to advance at their own pace. They can choose what areas they want to focus on. Once a student masters a standard they can proceed to the next level.

Proposed legislation would have allowed Florida public schools to start replacing conventional A-F grades with a new “mastery-based” system, and given them more flexibility to award course credit based on students’ mastery of the content, rather than the number of instructional hours.

But the bill died in the waning days of the legislative session, slowing the state’s progress with personalized learning.

The Lindsay Unified School District, located in the central valley, is a large agricultural community 62 miles south of Fresno and home to largely migrant workers.

The school district does not award A-F grades but instead scores students on a rubric.

Lindsay grades students on scale of 0-4, with 4 meaning mastery, on each standard. The score of 1 means the student is a novice, 2 means they are developing the standard, and 3 is approaching mastery. Students also progress to the next level when they master a standard instead of having to meet a number of instructional hours.

Once a student graduates, the district converts their rubric score to an A-F system for college admissions. Lawmaker concerns about college admissions dogged the scuttled Florida proposal.

The district includes 4,111 students, 89 percent of whom are on free and reduced lunch. The majority are Hispanic. Approximately 45 percent are not native English speakers.

The district is making strides, according to Tom Rooney, the district’s superintendent.

“Everything we do is about the learner,” Rooney said during this year’s annual American Federation for Children conference.. “Little by little, we are dismantling the structures of public education that has been around for 125 years. We are replacing them with learner centered structures. A culture of learning of empowerment. A culture that is about producing results.”

Rooney said attendance is up. Graduation rates have increased. Parents are required to be engaged in their children’s learning and students are taking ownership. They are also excited about coming to school.

The school has a 93 percent graduation rate, which is up from the low 70s. And 57 percent of students go on to earn a college degree in four years. Discipline issues have also decreased.

“Every day Lindsay learners come to school and are met at their developmental level,” Rooney said. “We challenge them. They are successful, and they leave school wanting to return tomorrow.”