Columbus Startup Rethinks Grading with a Success-Oriented Platform

Mastery Portfolio Logo - teacher and kids cartoons sitting on the floor

Mastery Portfolio is connecting teachers, students and parents to focus on what kids really need

American education is built on the typical grading patterns we all know — A’s through F’s, tests, quizzes and percentages. That may be the system we know, but is it what’s best for young learners? Research has demonstrated flaws in the traditional grading system, and Columbus startup Mastery Portfolio has created a gradebook platform that addresses the disconnect between letter grades and student comprehension. The professional learning and education consulting company helps schools solve their grading, feedback and assessment problems to promote total student body success.

“Traditional grades really don’t motivate student learning; they motivate becoming savvy at a points-and-averages game,” said Constance Borro, co-founder and CEO of Mastery Portfolio. “Many kids are left out, talent goes undeveloped, students feel like they’re being ranked, sorted and labeled and opportunities can be closed based on GPA. At Mastery Portfolio, we partner with schools who see problems with traditional grading and are having issues with motivating learning outcomes in their students. We take time to understand the needs of a school’s students and community so we can create a grading scheme that is specifically fit for them.”

Mastery Portfolio’s database allows teachers and school administrators to customize a grading system that supports skills-based learning. Their gradebook reports student performance on individual skills within a subject and provides direct feedback. Students receive “beginner,” “developing” or “mastered” ratings on individual skills instead of a total class average or letter grade. They can also see an increase in skills they’ve learned over time, which Borro has found to be more encouraging and motivating for students.

“Our philosophy is that when you give students feedback based on skills they’re developing, it gives actionable next steps towards improvement,” said Borro. “Instead of telling a student that they received a B on a test, a teacher should say, ‘You’re awesome at solving equations, but you need to work on adding and subtracting negative numbers.’ When teachers provide a clear path to students on what skill they need to work on, students no longer ask for extra credit — they ask when they can meet during a study hall to learn the skill more deeply. That’s a huge shift, both for kids and teachers, and our gradebook helps facilitate that change.”

Borro and co-founder Ben Nockles have a combined 35 years of teaching experience in many different types of schools. They saw firsthand how difficult it is to communicate direct feedback to students and their parents, and formed Master Portfolio in 2019 to provide a platform that connects teachers, parents and students and helps direct students toward a better way to learn.

“Teachers are starting to structure time for students to take a break from learning new material and provide time to reflect, grow and regroup on skills previously covered,” said Borro. “When a student receives their mastery report in class, they can decide what they want to work on that day. All needed resources are available for students to reteach skills to themselves and their peers, and they can ask questions if they need more assistance. That same self-reflection approach has real world applications for when students hold jobs in the future. Maybe they’ll recognize that they practice writing more professional emails, so they take the initiative to connect with a supervisor to request writing samples. Seeking out resources and individual learning is crucial to success in the workplace, and our approach at Mastery Portfolio helps students develop those critical skills at a young age.”

Mastery Portfolio is already in use at Columbus School for Girls and Huber Heights City Schools, with more contracts in the works for the 2022-2023 academic year. The diversity and quality of Ohio schools make it the ideal location to help the startup tweak its product with an eye toward expansion. And on the business side of Mastery Portfolio, their Columbus home has presented the perfect work-life balance.

“We have implemented Mastery Portfolio in a public, independent and charter school all in Ohio, which has helped ensure that we aren’t missing the mark for any community,” said Borro. “Being in Ohio has allowed us to focus on our values, which might be more complex in a bigger urban setting. Starting a company doesn’t have to be done exclusively on the coasts — there are a lot of opportunities in Ohio. There’s venture capital, great coworking spaces and it is super affordable. If you have a family, you can live well here on a teacher’s salary while, in some big cities, home ownership is not in the cards. Life is easier here, and I’ve had a lot of mentors in the Ohio startup space who’ve been super supportive to help me learn and grow along the way.”

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