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Tracking student progress in a school with over 400 students is a challenge that not so long ago involved piles of papers and long lists of penciled-in grades. But at Paradise Valley Elementary School in Casper, teachers are using software that makes the task more efficient.

MasteryConnect is an online portal that tracks performance, and it’s becoming more popular in Casper. Teachers say the portal is far more user-friendly and expansive than the average online gradebook. It offers online assessments, with immediate feedback for students. It puts data into color-coded graphs and maps the progress of individual students and entire classes. It is also a large database of assessments, shared by teachers and schools across the country.

Three schools are currently using the software, and many others are considering it, said Jeff Brewster, director of Human Resources Development for the Natrona County School District. Contract estimates put the cost at about $110,000 for the approximately 16 schools that are either using the software or intending to buy in.

Though individual schools are paying for the software through their local budgets, the board of trustees has pre-approved schools’ push to use the program, and supported pooling the individual schools for a combined, cheaper contract, said district board member Toni Billings.

“Essentially, MasteryConnect is a software program that allows teachers to create, at the click of a button, a formative assessment that would be aligned to the standards,” she said. “It’s immediate data: who in their classroom has met the standard and who has not.”

Principal Aaron Wilson calls the data tracking software a “snapshot.” At any time, the principal and teachers can see exactly how far along they are in the district mandated assessments, how well classes are progressing through concepts and how well students understand the material.

In a meeting of Paradise Valley’s fifth-grade teachers Thursday, Stephanie Wood, Angela Hartl, Kristin Landry and special education teacher Diana Gleason praised the software.

When a student is struggling in a specific area, the teachers can address that immediately, rather than wait for the end of a quarter, Landry said.

“It’s a much more constant cycle of intervention,” she said.

Assessment is a broad term in education, and it can mean anything from a statewide test to in-class assignments and projects. It’s about making sure each student understands the content before moving on, the teachers said.

At Paradise Valley, the teachers in each grade strategize together, meet regularly and compare notes on performance.

MasteryConnect can be as broad or specific as the teachers need it to be. They can look at one student in one subject area or the entire class.

In a recent English language arts project, for example, the fifth-graders did a multimedia project where they had to identify the theme in a story. The project meets one of the standards for the grade and assesses abilities to identify key concepts.

In the grading scale, “mastery” meant the student identified the theme of the story and provided evidence to support the assertion. “Near mastery” meant they identified the theme but didn’t point to examples in the story, and “remediation” meant they did not accurately identify the theme.

“Another feature is it shows you comparisons between your classes. We can say, ‘Oh, gosh, you had way more kids in mastery; what did you do?’” Hartl said. “Even though we plan together, you kind of have your own instructional style.”

Teachers can show a student his or her progress as well, with a color-coded map showing where they did great, where they did well and what they needed work on, said Gleason. And that has done wonders for their self-esteem, especially for children who are struggling, she said. The focus isn’t on how they are underperforming. When a kid looks at the map, they notice all the ways they are doing just as well as their peers, she said.

Ultimately, the software facilitates a better education for the kids, said Wilson.

“It allows more time for intentional conversations about kids,” he said, “rather than trying to figure out the data.”

Follow education reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner.

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