Principal touts benefits of standards-based education
Camden — Camden-Rockport Middle School Principal Maria Libby has seen education change in a variety of ways during the past several years and some of those changes, she said, are reflective of what is happening elsewhere across the nation.
In addition, the middle school, located on Knowlton Street, has seen many changes in school culture, with the renovation of the school lobby, addition of an Eric Hopkins-inspired mosaic in the cafeteria and various other displays reflective of students and their work, Libby said. The school also has monthly assemblies and contests announced over the loudspeaker.
"We are working hard to make this a fun, engaging place where students feel welcome and part of something special," Libby said.
There are three fundamental ways that education has changed at the school in the last five years; the way grades are figured and reporting on student performance; the way the school approaches consequences for misbehavior and the inclusion of an array of intervention programs to help meet students' needs, the principal said.
Standards-based grade system
The school is jumping into its second year of standards-based grading after a pilot program in the fifth-grade three years ago.
Standards-based grading is a different way to look at performance to capture what a students knows and understands and is able to do relative to a particular standard, the principal said.
Traditional grading considers of a number of factors including effort, participation, homework, test scores and an array of things based on a particular teacher's preference. Grades based on standards do not include areas such as effort, participation, organization skills and, at Camden-Rockport Middle School, homework, Libby said.
"We look at homework based on a part of the learning process," Libby said, noting it's important for students to complete homework and receive feedback, but the purpose of it is to better understand the material being taught.
Homework gives a student the chance to better understand a subject area, she said.
"So if a student doesn't do well on something in the beginning because they didn't understand, it doesn't hurt them [on report cards]," Libby said.
In traditional grading, it is difficult to determine what is effort and what is performance; and standards-based reporting provides more detail, the principal said.
On a student's report card, in math, for example, she said traditionally there is one grade. Now students see various areas of what they were taught in class with a number grade of one to four. The school strives to get every student to a mark of three because that means they are meeting the standard. A score of four is rare, she said.
"It's not about the grades — it's about the learning that is happening," Libby said.
The principal said there are systems put in place that require students to continue to do homework even though it's not considered as part of their overall grade. Students are required to turn the work in on time or they must stay after school to complete it.
"Once you understand the purpose [of standards-based reporting] it's hard to argue that it's not a better system," Libby said.
Consequences for misbehavior
The middle school also has moved away from traditional detention and turned to an approach based on restorative practices as a way to help students learn from their mistakes and take accountability for their behavior and learn the difference between right and wrong, Libby said.
"There is no more sitting in a classroom with your head down or reading a book," Libby said.
A restorative circle is comprised of the offending student, a staff facilitator, and may or may not include the victim of the behavior. When the victim is an adult, such as recurring classroom disruption, it likely includes that adult. When students are victims, school officials leave the choice up to that student if they would like to participate.
Circles occur after school and the conversation focuses on identifying the behavior, understanding who was affected, how they were being affected and what can be done to make it right, the principal said.
Teachers also provide "quick value checks," which Libby said are for minor offenses. The teacher has a short conversation with the student and reminds them of school policies.
The school also has a community service component as a consequence for misbehavior and also offers guidance classes. If, for example, a student is bullying, they may be sent to guidance classes after school for three days.
Response to Intervention
In traditional schooling, time is the constant while learning is the variable; some students learn, some do not, Libby said.
Response to Intervention, or RTI, she said, flips that model upside down — learning is the constant and time is the variable. RTI provides more time for students in certain areas where they need it to meet the standard or to learn what they need to learn.
The learning model allows more time for a struggling student to progress while, at the same time, also meets the needs of students at the other end of the spectrum.
Camden-Rockport Middle School offers a gifted and talented program and allows students to work ahead in the areas they are proficient. In the past, a student has taken two years of math in the eighth-grade, she said.
"As I look to the future, there will be much more of that blending and breaking down barriers to grade levels," Libby said.
The principal said the school is paying attention to a student's individual needs more than ever before and in an ideal world all students would be getting what they need individually.
The school is also piloting an independent study foreign language program that allows students to study six foreign languages — Arabic, Japanese, Thai, French, Latin and Italian — at their own pace. Last year, the independent study had five students and this year it has expanded to 19 students in the program. It is available to eighth-graders and they must apply to be considered for the program.
Bridging the gap
For the 2012-2013 school year, Libby said school officials and teachers are trying to create better communication to "bridge the gap" on what information parents are getting at home.
Libby said the school would like to have student portfolios to share at conferences.
"Middle schoolers tend to not bring work home, so we're trying to fix that," Libby said.
Last year, Camden-Rockport Elementary School began using standards-based education; and schools in Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville have begun adopting the model, with this school year being the first. Camden Hills Regional High School continues to use a traditional grading system.
The Camden Herald reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.