Mastery Connect in Malden

With the introduction of chromebooks, Malden, and various other districts, have been ushering in a more technological era for education. One of the newest additions to Malden, Mastery Connect, was brought in as a tool to facilitate test taking and comply with state requirements.

Its reputation, however, with teachers and administrators varies.

Assistant Superintendent Carol Keenan assists Superintendent John Oteri in overseeing all matters involving education in the city. Currently, the district has two curriculum directors working in the school system. One of them is Dr. Douglas Dias, who oversees the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) departments. The other director, Ms. Abbey Dick, is in charge of our Humanities Department which consists of English, History, Business and the Arts. In a collectively written statement, they described their reason for choosing Mastery Connect was because it is “The best program to be utilized as an excellent and user-friendly tool for teachers to use for formative and summative assessments.” They also believe that it allows teachers to monitor students’ progress ensuring that they are assessing our state’s standards.

The group also states that Mastery Connect helps teachers monitor student performance and use curriculum maps and other analytical tools to help figure out which topics or students need further development. In addition, Mastery Connect also enables the teachers to upload media such as video and photos to assess their students’ abilities when analyzing different types of media. The software is also said to utilize GradeCam, which instantly corrects multiple choice answers. Basically, the administrators also see Mastery Connect as a way to help teachers by saving them time with grading while granting them access to “easy to read charts and graphs that show the progress of the students.”      

Mastery Connect is in its second year here at the high school and after talking to teachers, its purchase seems to be a controversial choice.

Some teachers believe that keeping pen and paper would have been smarter than spending an already thin budget on a new computerized testing service. Meanwhile, some teachers believe this to be the more sound decision seeing as MCAS is becoming computerized and they believe it will prepare the students better.

Ms. Kristen Kirby has been teaching biology and forensics here at Malden High for about 14 years. Kirby believes Mastery Connect to be easier than the previous systems because she likes to get her students’ results right away, but she also disclosed that she does not have to deal with putting the test in so she could not bring light to the issues teachers might run into there.

Mr. James Valente, who has been teaching at Malden High for 25 years, simply stated he believe[s] it to be “more difficult than [the] previous way [they’ve] done exams.”

One of Malden High’s Mastery Connect leaders is English teacher Mr. Sean Walsh, who has been working as a teacher for 15 years, twelve of them in Malden. He stated “ In terms of data analysis, Mastery Connect is easier and more user friendly. It has some benefits such as online testing and the ability to examine student mastery across grade levels, teachers, etc.... It is better than Performance Matters [the previous system]. To create an exam or student tracker is quite easy and to share assessments across teachers is also a benefit.”

Foreign Language teacher of seven years, Mrs. Raisa Conefrey believes it to be easier because results come back right away rather than running them through a system. However, Marine Biology teacher, Ms. Shauna Campbell, “like[s] it for a grading system and a way to accumulate data, but [she] [doesn't] like giving tests on computers because [Malden is] pushing new strategies such as writing with colors and it limits the types of questions.” She prefers scanned tests because they allow teachers “to put in those other types of questions and evaluate students more accurately.”  

Walsh also added that Mastery Connect can only track either the state standards or the common core standards, meaning that if there is a question that combines both types of standards, the test can only track one or the other because the software itself only allows the teachers to choose one. Conefrey also explained that is even harder for foreign languages because they not only have to align with state standards but they also have to align with national standards as well. Jenkins House Principal, Ms. Shereen Escovitz, explained that the teachers are able to create their own standards for their questions if needed.

Interim Principal Chris Mastrangelo added that Mastery Connect “[makes] it more uniform to  . . . [line] up with the state standards.” The central administration stated that their decision to purchase Mastery Connect was because “technology is consistently becoming more prevalent in our lives and classrooms, and using it to better administer assessments is an understandable continuation of this trend.” The group also went on to inform that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has been administering MCAS in the elementary schools on the computers, so they believe it will help get our students ready for when they start giving it at the high school.

Interim Boyle House Principal, Mr. Richard Tivan, said the reason why the city decided to purchase Mastery Connect was that “They think it's a good way to collect data on a large scale and it sorts and helps you look at all data from all  angles to interpret anything. Everything in education is data driven now and it helps you see the challenges, and it helps you collect data to compare.”

English Teacher Leader Ms. Robin Doherty said “ [She] likes that it does allow[s] [them] to align [their] assessments with frameworks and see where students are struggling. [She] believes it's important to find a way to use it more and better.” Doherty also went on to say that she liked that it lets them view and assess the information the students put down in relation to the frameworks.

Walsh confessed “[He is] a proponent of standards-based grading.” He went on to disclose “[He], however, [is] not a fan of online assessment—particularly when it comes to literacy skills. The research shows that students read with more proficiency and accuracy with physical copies of the text.  As with any platform, we should just consider how it can be best leveraged for student achievement and how it can useful to teachers and instruction.”

Escovitz also volunteered “Its best used for formative assessments, like smaller things—small quizzes and ‘do nows’ to track progress easily. In terms of tracking, it is not as good for exams because they cover so much.”  Conefrey felt that she would rather a different service with more freedom to create an assessment so that she believed to accurately assess all her students language abilities. Kirby mentioned that she is not opposed to keeping it because she believes it is easier, but she wonders about the cost benefits.

On the other hand, teachers and administrators at the high school found some opportunities that Mastery Connect has for some improvement.

Both Kirby and Campbell addressed the fact that there is a big push for writing with colors this year, yet there is no tool or function that allows the students to attempt highlighting or mark up text, whereas it is much easier to do on paper.

Conefrey said that she would appreciate for it to be more language-friendly in the sense that it would incorporate some more writing on it.  Escovitz reported “ [She] thinks the interface needs something a little different because [Mastery Connect] can’t do advanced math or highlighting and short answers are touch-and-go for auto correct. Some features need to be updated to for it to be used properly.” Tivnan offered that it should have some easier input for both standards and assessments.

Walsh expressed that “Mastery Connect's online platform does not yet provide all the ways in which English Teachers specifically want students to interact with a text. There are some issues with scrolling, highlighting, annotating, Writing with Colors—which are key components to how we assess student understanding and metacognition.”  He went on to elaborate by saying “[He is] leery of online testing and as we move in this direction, [He] thinks some professional development around not just the logistics, but the educational theory and instructional strategies around interacting with text, mathematics, content, etc. online would be beneficial. It is where we are going (MCAS 2.0), so we cannot avoid it, but we should always advocate for the best assessment platform for our learners.”

Valente would prefer to simplify the process in order to not require the computer all the time.

After many efforts to find out the cost of Mastery Connect for the district, the question remains unanswered.

The full statement from the administrators is pasted below:

Technology is consistently becoming more prevalent in our lives and classrooms, and using it to better administer assessments is an understandable continuation of this trend. Online assessment and grading programs have been around for several years, and the District considered several before finding the one that provides educators with the best features. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is currently administering MCAS assessments in grades 3-8 using computers, with the expectation that it will be expanded next year. These assessments are a means to measure student progress towards the set of standards outlined by the State.

Towards this, several years ago the District selected Mastery Connect as the best program to be utilized as an excellent and user-friendly tool for teachers to use for formative and summative assessments.  It allows teachers to monitor student performance by insuring that they are assessing our state’s Standards. Teachers can monitor student performance as well as utilize the curriculum maps, the filtering system to see who may need re-teaching and/or remediation lessons, have access to the item banks, modify existing assessments based on students’ needs, discuss, collaborate, and share assessments with other teachers nationally. It has the capability to upload images, docs, and videos to use in assessments as well as running a plethora of data reports to review their students’ achievement.  It literally provides teachers immediate data by utilizing the GradeCam to instantly correct assessments. Mastery Connect saves teachers time by having the ability to export scores directly into X2 for grading purposes. To quote directly from Mastery Connect, “the easy-to-read charts and graphs show real-time progress of core standards that have been mastered, and student progress over time.”

Simply put, Mastery Connect allows teachers to measure that they are teaching what the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires them to teach at each grade level as well as to insure that students are mastering those requirements.  Per Mastery Connect, “teachers can effectively assess core standards, monitor student performance, and report student mastery.”

Ms. Carol Keenan, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Douglas Dias, STEM Director and Ms. Abbey Dick, Humanities Director

David Lombardi

David Lombardi, a freshman from Forestdale Elementary School and a new member of the Blue and Gold, is very excited for his first year at Malden High. His athletic interests are soccer, swimming, and track, while in his free time he enjoys traveling and seeing new places. Lombardi wants to major in Medicine and attend Vanderbilt University in Tennessee upon graduating from Malden High. He enjoys a wide array of food but finds that pasta is his favorite. Lombardi regularly listens to country music, especially The Zac Brown Band and Florida Georgia Line. His favorite movie is Gifted while his favorite TV show is Friends. One of his goals is to eventually visit Australia to see the sights and explore the outback.

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