Theoretical and empirical support is increasing for mastery learning, in which learners must demonstrate a minimum level of proficiency before completing a given educational unit. Mastery learning approaches aim for uniform achievement of key objectives by allowing learning time to vary and as such are a course-level analogue to broader competency-based curricular strategies. Sound assessment is the cornerstone of mastery learning systems, yet the nature of assessment validity and justification for mastery learning differs in important ways from standard assessment models. Specific validity issues include (1) the need for careful definition of what is meant by "mastery" in terms of learners' achievement or readiness to proceed, the expected retention of mastery over time, and the completeness of content mastery required in a particular unit; (2) validity threats associated with increased retesting; (3) the need for reliability estimates that account for the specific measurement error at the mastery versus nonmastery cut score; and (4) changes in item- and test-level score variance over retesting, which complicate the analysis of evidence related to reliability, internal structure, and relationships to other variables. The positive and negative consequences for learners, educational systems, and patients resulting from the use of mastery learning assessments must be explored to determine whether a given mastery assessment and pass/fail cut score are valid and justified. In this article, the authors outline key considerations for the validation and justification of mastery learning assessments, with the goal of supporting insightful research and sound practice as the mastery model becomes more widespread.
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