Nearly three years ago, when the Board of Education hired me as the superintendent of Madison-Plains Local Schools, they gave me a big challenge: build on the district’s foundation to show growth in student achievement.
While not the only objective, we all agreed demonstrating improvement in student success was a major priority. The district had done a decent job of getting by, but it was clear parents and the greater community wanted to see more from us.
I served as the district’s treasurer for several years before assuming my current role. In the 2013-14 school year, just before I became the superintendent, I took a leading role in creating and implementing the district’s Improvement Plan. The MPIP identified several key areas for growth.
Providing staff — administrators and teachers alike — with tools that would help them succeed in the classroom was a priority. We learned by studying other districts that were making significant progress we needed to look a lot closer in Madison-Plains at how students were performing, from standardized state tests to daily tasks in the classroom.
In order to utilize data from our students, we needed a better method of collecting, analyzing and incorporating assessment results into our daily teaching strategies. That’s a much more cumbersome task than looking at right and wrong answers on a test; it’s a matter of identifying the types of questions and measuring the answers against the standards set by the state for each subject and each grade. It is also imperative that the data be easily accessible and relevant in real time for the teachers. Most state required testing provides results so far in the future that they have no real impact on the educational process happening today.
Enter MasteryConnect, an online tool that helps our teachers collect information about each student enrolled in their class. It’s an investment an educational tool unlike any we have used before, and is just one example of how our operating dollars are put to use in Madison-Plains to move the district forward in a well-researched, methodical way.
We are in the first of a three-year phase in. We conducted a pilot program at the end of the 2015-16 school year to ensure it would fit the Madison-Plains educational process. After success, we rolled MasteryConnect out to the entire staff. This year all teachers were trained and the administration set expectations on how it would be used. Many teachers immediately saw the value and felt it exceeded expectations. Teachers will be required next school year to use MasteryConnect in partnership with students; parents will be able to access the database for their children in the 2018-19 school year.
MasteryConnect gives teachers a real-time view into student performance after they complete in-class exercises, quizzes or tests and indicates what standards they know and don’t know. The system will categorize that knowledge into color-coded groupings from remediation, near mastery, mastery and advanced.
Our teachers can then use the information to adjust their instruction to meet individual needs. For example, if the majority of the class shows it is near mastery for a particular standard, the teacher might simply review the material with the students. If a large number of students showed deficiency or “remediation,” the teacher might readdress the topic in a different manner to tackle a problem area.
Michelle Hildebrandt, an eighth grade teacher at Madison-Plains Junior High, said the MasteryConnect feedback her students receive is invaluable.
“I have had students see their results and then immediately want to go back and look over their work to fix their mistakes,” she said. “Students have become very curious about their progress and feel elated when they are blue, which is the color for ‘advanced’ on a standard or test.”
MasteryConnect also provides students with confidence, Hildebrandt said. If a student performs poorly on a test, they can look at the results and see precisely where they need to improve instead of going through guesswork. Furthermore, teachers can use the information during one-on-one time with students and shape conversations in parent-teacher conferences to focus on areas of need.
Michelle Hildebrandt is not alone. Our teachers have devoted a significant amount of time learning how to make an impact in the classroom in all grades K-12. Likewise, the tool has increased collaboration among staff and has spurred deeper, more meaningful conversations.
Of course, there is always work to be done. Investing in tools like MasteryConnect — putting funds toward programming with proven results — will help us continue on our pursuit toward excellence.
Tim Dettwiller is the superintendent of Madison-Plains Local Schools. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 740-490-0614.