An investigation into the effects of a modified version of Bloom's mastery learning strategy on the achievement of students in high school biology



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Introduction. Enrollment and achievement in secondary school science courses have shown a decline in recent years. Finding a means to help students succeed in introductory high school science courses is therefore a major concern of science educators. The literature suggests that lack of achievement in science may be related to a conflict between the concrete cognitive level of many students in the high school age group and the abstract nature of the subject matter of science. Attempts to overcome this conflict through modifications of the subject matter have had only limited success and do not appear to be practical methods for use by the classroom teacher. An alternate approach to improving achievement in science is found in Benjamin Bloom's mastery learning strategy. This instructional method still presents some problems, in terms of time, which conflict with the realities of the public school classroom. Therefore, modifications in the basic mastery learning format are necessary if it is to be accepted for classroom use. Purpose of the Study. The purpose of this study was to test the effects of a modified mastery learning strategy on achievement in high school biology. The three hypotheses tested in the study were as follows: 1. A modified mastery strategy will result in decreased variation in achievement. 2. A modified mastery strategy will result in an increase in achievement. 3. A modified mastery strategy will result in an increase in retention. Subjects. Subjects of the study were 185 tenth grade students enrolled in 12 non-accelerated introductory biology classes in a suburban high school in west Harris County, Texas. Six classes were assigned to the experimental treatment and six were assigned to the control treatment. The subjects' Differential Aptitude Test Verbal Reasoning (DATV) and Abstract Reasoning (DATAB) subtest scores were used as covariates to equate the two groups on aptitude. Treatments. Students in both treatments received instruction in three units on human physiology during the six weeks of the study. Students in the control group ended each 8-14 day unit with a test and then proceeded to the next unit. Students in the experimental group followed each unit test with a two day remediation period. During this period each student was assigned one corrective activity for each objective on which he did not attain an 80% criterion level on the unit test. This remediation period was concluded with a second unit test. Instruction then proceeded to the next unit. At the conclusion of the six weeks of instruction both treatment groups were administered an achievement test over all three units of instruction. Four weeks later an alternate form of the test was given to both groups to test for retention. Results An F test of the variances of the scores of the two treatment groups, adjusted for aptitude did not support the ability of the modified mastery format to significantly reduce variation in achievement. An analysis of covariance, obtained through a fixed regression of achievement on DATV, DATAB, and Treatment, indicated a significant difference in achievement (£4.01) in favor of the experimental group. A "part" point biserial correlation of part retention with treatment did not indicate a significant positive correlation between the experimental treatment and retention. Conclusions. A modified mastery learning strategy which employs limited remediation is not sufficient to improve achievement in introductory high school biology to a practical degree. Such an approach may result in statistically significant results regarding overall achievement. However, this approach would not likely affect either variation in achievement or retention. Further exploration is necessary to verify whether other modifications of Bloom's mastery learning strategy are capable of producing practically significant results or if use of the full mastery model is required to attain large achievement effects.