Is Mastery Connect the Solution for Everyone?

Midterms and Finals, as stressful as they are, have proven to be an effective form of testing to help cement what students have learned over that semester. However, ever since we as a city have invested in the new software, MasteryConnect, it has gotten a lot harder. I am not referring to content but the added issues that arise when testing is 100% computerized. Does it truly give an accurate assessment of every student's capabilities? Personally, I do not believe they accurately assess every students ability and knowledge for the following reasons.

Learning styles vary for every student.  Students use their senses in different ways to retain the information they are given during their classes. Some learn the traditional way by simply listening and others need to re-read or write information down in order to retain it. Some may need pictures or visuals while some may need a hands-on approach. Overall, the majority learn by combining a few different senses. Education as a whole has evolved over time as research has taught us that learning is a multidimensional process. Teaching has changed from classrooms set up in perfect rows and the teacher would verbally present most of the information to a variety of methods from small groups, project-based learning and a myriad of visual and tactile materials to help students truly learn. We now have varying levels of class, individual education plans and specialized instructions - all tools available to students to help them achieve their best. Colleges and universities have downgraded and sometimes eliminated the importance of the SAT test and all accept either the SAT or ACT, which allows students to see what test is best for their style.

On the other hand, paper and pencil tests can be hard for some as well. However, in using a paper and pencil test, a student has the opportunity to see his work in progress for some subjects or maybe catch a mistake before it is too late. Although most teachers offered students the option to use a paper and pencil to help when taking the test, answers still needed to be inputted into the computer and any possible partial credit was eliminated. Teachers no longer are able to see a students work or process in getting an answer. Maybe a student used the correct formula but transposed a number at the end or forgot a decimal. Does that really mean they don’t know the material? On another note, a teacher rarely gets to digest the test results and are therefore unable to assess whether the class as a whole was having trouble with a particular chapter that probably should be reviewed before moving on. Wouldn’t this be the best use of a midterm exam for both the teacher and the student?

Another issue that arises with this change is mechanical. Midterms and Finals are timed tests. What happens when a student gets logged off due to unknown errors? What happens when someone’s work is unintentionally lost? What happens when someones chromebook dies in the middle of a test? Is it an accurate assessment of the student’s knowledge or the teachers skill in teaching if a student loses valuable time re-logging in or finding an outlet to power their chromebook or worse yet, if their work wasn’t saved? This year the 9th grade class was required to type their essays on MasteryConnect, which led to a variety of other issues. When I asked a few students how they felt after the exams, some students were frustrated because they felt they did not have enough time to finish their open responses due to their slow typing speed. A few others admitted that they worried about their typing at the beginning, so they guessed at many of the multiple choice questions, so they would have enough time to complete the open response. Although we are a generation raised on technology, many of us can text faster than any adult we know but, typing using more than our thumbs and a home row is still a skill many of us have yet to perfect as accurately as our handwriting. So, does this truly reflect our ability to write a cohesive essay?  

Lastly, temptation exists all around us whether its at home or in school. There is a reason why teachers say clear your desks, don’t look at others papers and no talking because temptation can challenge even the most honorable students. Why are SAT, ACT and AP exams not conducted on a computer? I am not totally sure myself but I can venture a guess. In today’s world, we are are surrounded by wifi, apps, personal hotspots and other avenues yet to be discovered that will always lead to temptation to take the easier road. Add that to the fear of final grades, college acceptances and GPA’s, and this becomes even more stressful. Don’t we owe it to all the students to ensure that the test will be taken fairly by all?

On the opposite side, I understand the benefits of using a computerized program. As a large city, it is a great way to track the progress of all the high school students utilizing standardized midterms and finals. I am sure it allows administrators to evaluate students progress by teachers as well. Grading is now completed and posted much faster than years passed not to mention freeing up the teachers to focus on the next lesson.

However, even with the benefits, I still question if this is the best course of action for every student at Malden High. It is easy to get caught up in what is efficient or easy for a district but we must not lose sight that the district is the sum of all it’s students and teachers. Is MasteryConnect  better for students and teachers alike?  Personally, I think the negatives are too great to continue requiring students to use MasteryConnect as the sole accurate assessment of our knowledge.

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