Friday, June 6, 2014

Projecting Forward to 2014-15...

I can't believe its been February since my last post!  Time sure does fly when one is building and working to pass a district budget. . . all of a sudden, we look up and its June already!  I think one thing that has thrown off timing this year has most certainly been the weather. .. seems like spring is just now springing, but with any luck we'll have an awesome summer to make up for all this cold and rain! We can all hope anyway!

I wanted to take a minute to reach out to parents and others in RSU 3 to talk a little bit about what everyone should be expecting for next year's work in our continued efforts to make our Proficiency Based Mission/Vision a reality for the children of RSU 3!  Its certainly been a busy year this year and there's more work to be done for sure!  The purpose of this blog post is to just try to keep everyone informed so that discussions and feedback can continue to inform our work moving forward!

Elementary Level (K-5) Expected Work for 2014-15:

*  Teachers will continue to grade and report student learning on a 1-4 point scale with a 4 indicating that student learning is going "above and beyond" what was taught in class to apply the knowledge to new learning experiences, a 3 indicates a student meeting proficiency, a 2 indicates a student meeting foundational knowledge, and a 1 indicating that with help, the student knows some foundational knowledge.  Based on student/parent feedback we will also be reporting out in .5 increments so instead of just 1,2,3,4, we will report out on 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4.

*  EDUCATE will continue to be our tracking software for student learning.

*  All parents will be given login information to be able to access reports of their children's learning via EDUCATE at any time.

*  EDUCATE reporting will change to include reports that indicate where students are in their progressions of learning in order to help parents better determine whether students are on pace with learning by end of benchmarking periods.  (Benchmarking will occur at the end of grade 5, grade 8, and grade 12 and is intended to insure students meet learning targets and measurement topics at a rate that will enable them to graduate within a reasonable time frame).

*  Early release workshop days will be spent providing individual training to teachers focused on creating student-centered classrooms, using a balanced instructional model, and maintaining rigor in the learning environment.

Middle Level (6-8) Expected Work for 2014-15:

*  Teachers will be grading and reporting student learning on a 1-4 point scale with a 4 indicating that student learning is going "above and beyond" what was taught in class to apply the knowledge to new learning experiences, a 3 indicates a student meeting proficiency, a 2 indicates a student meeting foundational knowledge, and a 1 indicating that with help, the student knows some foundational knowledge.  Based on student/parent feedback we will be reporting in .5 increments so instead of just 1,2,3,4, we will be reporting out with 1,1.5,2,2.5,3,3.5, 4.

*  Instead of Infinite Campus, teachers, parents and students will use EDUCATE software to track and manage student learning.  All parents will be provided login information (and opportunities for training) to be able to access reports of their children's learning via EDUCATE at any time.

*  EDUCATE reporting will include reports that indicate where students are in their progressions of learning in order to help parents better determine whether students are on pace with learning by end of benchmarking periods (grade 5, 8, and 12 as outlined above under Elementary).

*  The Middle School will be reporting out in trimesters next year instead of quarters, with progress reports in approximate 6 week intervals.

*  Early release workshop days will be spent providing individual training to teachers focused on creating student-centered classrooms, using a balanced instructional model, and maintaining rigor in the learning environment.

*  Schedules have been created at the Middle School to allow for more frequent grouping and regrouping of students across grade levels and content areas with teachers according to where they are in their learning so that teachers can maximize student instructional time.

*  Over the summer, work will be completed to revise Athletic Eligibility requirements for students at the middle school level.  This information will be shared with parent/guardians and students when school opens in the fall.

High School Level (9-12) Expected Work for 2014-15:

*  Teachers will be grading students on a 1-4 scale and translating those scores to a 100 point scale for parents during a 1 year transition year.  The translation scale will look like this:

1 - 50
1.5 - 60
2 - 65
2.5 - 70
3 - 90
3.5 - 95
4 - 100

*  New Graduation requirements will be as follows:  The classes of 2015, 2016 and 2017 will graduate according to the "old" credits based system.  Currently, each course in our program of studies has identified the Measurement Topics that are met by taking the course.  Similar to our old system, students simply need to pass the classes associated with the required credit requirements and a diploma will be awarded.  Students will be graded on a 1-4 scale, that will then be translated to a 100 point scale for the purposes of transcripts (as outlined above).

According to the new graduation policy, the class of 2018 will be held to the PBE diploma, HOWEVER RSU 3 will be seeking an "extension" from the Maine Department of Education for one year.  Once this is granted, the class of 2018 will be treated similarly to the classes listed above for the purposes of meeting graduation requirements (details will be listed in handbooks given to students/families in the fall) - it would then be the class of 2019 or the class of 2020 (depending upon which extension the Board wishes to request) that will need to meet new requirements associated with a PBE diploma.  These new requirements state that students must demonstrate proficiency at the Measurement Topic Level for each of the 8 core content areas (Math, ELA, Science & Technology, Social Studies, Health/PE, World Languages, and Visual and Performing Arts) and for each of the 5 guiding principles (Clear and effective communicator, self-directed and lifelong learner, creative and analytical problem solver, responsible and involved citizen, and integrative and informed thinker).

The specifics on how this will take place will be the content for another blog post coming later this summer, but for now, please know that it looks like we will be given a 1 or 2 year "extension" by the MDOE so that we can work to ensure student success in the transition!

*  Over the course of the summer two important committees will be meeting to help define the specifics of what we will require for graduation.  The first is our vertical team meetings.  These are content area teams representing grades K-12 will work to define specifically to what level we will be expecting ALL STUDENTS to demonstrate proficiency at which Measurement Topics.  The second is our High School Grading Committee.  This team will be comprised of a high school staff whose job it will be to create recommendations about how to deal with "traditions" such as honor roll, class rank, co and extra-curricular eligibility (within MPA guidelines), weighting of grades, etc - all things that will be very important to keep moving forward, but things that we will need to re-think in a PBE system.  The recommendations made by both of these working groups will be brought to the high school staff in the fall and then to the School Board for final decision making.  Again, I plan a separate blog post on just this information for later on this summer - so please stay tuned!

*  Student Achievement/grades will be reported out using EDUCATE software starting in the fall of 2014.  Student work will be graded on a 1-4 scale, then grades will be reported out in a 100 point scale to parents.  Parents will have login information in order to access their child's learning at anytime just like Infinite Campus currently allows.

*  Early release workshop days will be spent providing individual training to teachers focused on creating student-centered classrooms, using a balanced instructional model, and maintaining rigor in the learning environment.

At the District Level:

*  Continue to work on finalizing Strategic Plan - should be completed by fall 2014.

*  Continue to provide training to teachers across RSU 3 on Complex Reasoning Skills, Educate, Utilizing Balanced Instructional Approaches, and creating student centered classrooms and schools.

*  Finalize revisions to Graduation Policies and athletic eligibility policies.

*  Board will decide whether or not to complete work required for a 1 year extension from MDOE to meet PBE diploma requirements or a 2 year extension.

*  Decide how to move forward with "traditions" such as honor roll, class rank, etc.

*  Decide what transcripts/profiles will look like.

*  Continue to provide multiple opportunities for parent/student/community feedback and building understanding.

Well that's about it for this blog post - long enough already!  I hope this has helped to outline for all of you some of what you can expect for changes next year understanding that we're still working on many of the details.  Future blog posts will focus on laying out recent policy changes, more specific changes to high school grading and reporting practices, and ways in which we are encouraging students to think differently about navigating their own learning using pathways.  I hope you stay tuned!


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  2. Hi Heather
    Will you comment on the concept, "learn at your own pace?" I wonder if kids are procrastinating until crunch time comes. I'm sure this is not the intention. Thoughts? Thanks.

  3. You are correct Dick, that is not the intention. Students learn at their own pace, for sure, but there is such a thing as teacher pace. We do not ask teachers to give up their abilities to determine (as they always have using the art of teaching) at what pace a student should be working in order to maximize their time. In our district mission/vision we specifically use the term "students will work at their own individual maximum pace" in order to make it clear that this system isn't going to allow for students to sit and take up space while here at school. Students are expected to use their time wisely and to be in school to learn. That particular expectation has not changed. What has changed, however is how we've created a system of supports that really focuses in on allowing students to be their own "captains" of their learning while still making sure that they are getting what they need to be successful. If students fall behind teacher pace, additional supports will be provided to get them back to where they need to be. If students go ahead of teacher pace, all the supports will be provided to allow them to continue to learn and grow as they need to. What has ultimately changed is that we're now bringing the student's voice into the equation and helping them to help us determine what that "maximum" pace is and what supports they need in order to be able to achieve it.

    1. On February 14 this year, you answered a question here in this blog a question similar to my own.

      You say, "One thing that is important to remember is that the system itself isn't built upon the traditional model where one teacher was standing up in front of a class of 25 students and expecting all the students to be learning the same things at the same pace. That's what we're trying to get away from. There isn't any "catching up" to the class as there was before. There is only ensuring that each individual student is learning at their own "maximum pace". "

      I don't understand. While I can definitely get behind our effort of moving education out of the 20th century and into the 21st, I think there IS catching up required at Mount View and it is called teacher pace. Am I wrong, or do I just misunderstand again? Maybe we now just have a different shade of catching up.

      (On a side note, your blog settings require commenters to be logged in to specific apps before they comment, and disallows many if not most people from participating here. By checking the settings, you can opt to open up the dialogue to everyone, and if a comment is inappropriate, you can simply delete it and/or block the sender.)

      Lastly, is LD 1422, chapter 6 the reg we are trying to comply with?

    2. Dick, my best response here would be to agree - there is "catching up" required in RSU 3. .. but its the CATCHING UP TO WHAT that is very different. It used to be that you "caught up" to the middle of the class. . .where the whole class was going. In our new system, the "catching up" - is catching up to their own maximum pace, as determined by the student and teacher. Additionally, there will be times when students will have to meet certain benchmarks or "gateways" before going forward. For example, students will need to have demonstrated a certain level of learning before being allowed to transition from grade 5 to 6 simply to ensure that we do not have 18 year olds who are still working back on 2nd grade learning targets. These benchmarks will be made very clear and transparent so that there are no secrets as to what should be accomplished by then and it will also be something that teachers will pay attention to when helping students to figure out their own pacing. If students don't reach these benchmarks then intense supports will be provided in order to help them to and then they can move on. While we know and understand that students learn at different rates and in different ways, we also know and understand that some students motivate internally, while others require a little more external nudging. The teacher's role will be that of coach - of understanding what the capabilities are of their students and making sure that each student is working at their maximum capacity. If students are working at their maximum capacity and still are unable to meet benchmarks, then its our job to offer additional supports to help get them through those gateways to their next opportunities for continued learning.

      Regarding your side note - I'll check my settings and see what I can do about that! Thanks!

      In regards to your LD question - yes, LD 1422, which is now Maine Revised Statutes 20-A ss 4722.

      Hope that answers your questions Dick! Thanks!

  4. Thanks for your excellent answer. I somehow continue to be mystified. You say, Heather:

    "If students fall behind teacher pace, additional supports will be provided to get them back to where they need to be."

    Are the kids taught how to access these additional supports? Is it obvious to the kids when they fall behind teacher pace? Is the teacher responsible for identifying a lagging student and therefore required to implement our supplementary teaching system?

    I don't ask these questions lightly. I read what RSU3 publishes about our local attempts to comply with new state regulations regarding PBE. As an ed tech in the middle of our transition, I want to understand how I can assist. I trust my input is welcome. (I do wonder where everyone else is, though)

    "Learning is the constant, time is the variable."

    1. Btw, I heard several student today wondering out loud which of their friends were and were not on the five year plan. It shocked me a little.

    2. As in our traditional systems, it is everyone's responsibility to help identify when students are not reaching their full potential and then it is everyone's responsibility to help get them back to where they need to be. Of course, primary responsibility will rest with the student and the teacher as it always has - however - as a system it will be our responsibility to provide as many different and varied supports as there are varied and different learning challenges. .. no small task, and one we are still working on improving.

      In terms of the five year comment. . . I used to hear that all the time in college, although I think I remember friends of mine proclaiming that they were on the ten year plan! In college there is certainly a cost attached to that. . .as a young person just starting out though, I'm thinking there is a larger cost involved in not making sure our students are prepared to be successful adults upon completion of their time here with us. To be honest, I think sometimes my daughter could have used a fifth year. Maybe that is what is needed for some students? Maybe not? It is going to be our jobs to figure that out and to create a system that prepares students for their futures so that when they do graduate that diploma actually means something.

  5. Here's my concern, and my issue. I went through A LOT this year with my daughter who is in 7th grade. She chose her own pace, but it was not teacher's pace. Her idea of going to class was to chat with her friends and check out the boys. Well naturally, that put her way behind. I was not aware she was behind and was never told until March. March! And I didn't hear it from any of her teachers, I heard about it from her. They told her she would be on athletic suspension. So she crammed and crammed and crammed and got caught up. But because all of her time was focused on make up work, guess what? You guessed it! She got behind on the current stuff. Again, she's back on academic suspension. So at what point will the teacher step back and say, "Hmm, she doesn't want to do her work. She wants to mess around. Maybe I should contact her parent instead of belittling her in front of her classmates and making her feel stupid?" In all the contact with the teachers after that, they all said, "Well she needs to take control of her own education." Really??? So all of this was just on her, no responsibility from any of her teachers who didn't care enough to step in and steer her in the right direction. At least an email or a phone call to me would've been great, but that never happened until I initiated it. Where was my daughter's "supports" that you speak of? There was no support from the middle school. None. Only punishments. Athletic suspension and going to sleep after midnight every night trying to cram the whole years work into her brain. She would get so exhausted and cry. The education through RSU #3 was bad before, but now it has only gotten worse. You can spin it to make it this wonderful thing, but it is not. My daughter is proof of it. You call this learn at your own pace, but its not. It's the same old thing it was before, but now the kids have no guidance or help. They are left to their own devices.

    1. I had to use my other daughter's google account in order to respond. My name is Barbie Mattingly, and as you can tell, I'm not happy with this new system.

    2. I'm glad you clarified that Barbie. .. I was going to reply to Rhi! :) First, please allow me to thank you for taking the time to express your concerns and ask your questions. .. let's see if I can address them. . .

      First, let me be clear. The importance of the teacher making sure that students are working at their own maximum learning pace is paramount in this new system. There is no expectation nor allowance of "idle time", instead the expectation is that students are using their time well and are there to learn. If that is not happening, that is not the new system's fault necessarily, but a more traditional issue that is more than likely at play.

      I will admit there was a flaw in our reporting system to parents at the elementary and middle school this year that WILL BE FIXED for the coming year. That flaw was that although we reported out to parents how students were doing on the learning targets they were working on, we weren't able to give parents a clear picture as to what that meant in terms of teacher pace. Parents often asked, as you refer to above: "Glad to see my son/daughter is getting a 90 (proficient) on this learning target in science, but what does that mean for them in respect to where they're supposed to be?" Next year, when we utilize EDUCATE software to report out to parents - this pacing information will be there for parents to see - answering that very important question that all parents want to know and SHOULD KNOW. EDUCATE will also be open to all parents just like Infinite Campus has been so that parents can log in and see exactly what their child is learning, and as you express above - where that learning is in comparison to where they should be - a key point that was missing last year because we were attempting to translate between our "old" system of 100 point grading to a new system of 1-4 grading.

    3. Please know and understand that in this new system, we are by no means saying that teachers should somehow abdicate their responsibilities as teachers and simply push all responsibilities for learning onto the students without any oversight or support or assistance. That is NOT the case, and in fact is the opposite of what needs to occur to make this new system work well for students. My guess is that the problems you describe above are not necessarily our new system's fault - but a good old fashioned lapse in communication which occurred even in our old system.

      Please know that our new system attempts to bring students into the conversation about their learning - it makes students become part of the conversation instead of just being told exactly what to do and when to do it, and teaching only to the "middle" of the class at any given time as our old system did. Students know what the learning expectations are. They are posted on the walls, conversations with teachers are held daily, and students know what they are supposed to be doing and why and they've had a voice in helping to determine what that is. Teachers do not then just sit back and watch. Teachers are working with small groups of students, constantly cycling in and out of conversations giving small group and individual attention to all students and jumping on teachable moments as they come up. Teachers are working to create multiple methods for students to get support, whether that be through use of an Ed. Techs, or use of peer coaches, or mini-lessons utilizing technology or small guided lessons with the teacher - there are actually far more supports for student learning in our new system than in the old and it is the clear expectation that within this system there is no "idle" time. .. students are expected to be learning. . . that is why they are with us. Granted, students are given a voice, and with that comes some responsibility - but you are right. . .this does not reduce the school's need to communicate effectively with parents when things start to go wrong. That has always been a need, and will always continue to be a need for our students and families.

      I appreciate your courage in posting this. .. and I agree, as a mother, I would also be upset if communication was not done well, but please know - the issue I believe to be at play here is communication, not the new system. Please also know I will be sure to share this story with staff (anonymously if you'd like, just let me know) as an example of the absolute importance of communicating effectively with parents so that parents can become PARTNERS in helping all of our children learn.

      I truly appreciate your comments. .. it certainly places the issue of communication at the front of my mind moving into next fall!

      Thank you Barbie for posting. . . I hope this helped address some of your concerns, and at the very least separate between what your concerns are and the new system itself. Your concerns are very valid ones around communication and the need to make sure that parents are seen as partners in this work of educating our children - and need to be treated as such!

    4. Thank you for your reply. I don't mind you sharing my thoughts about this, each of my daughter's teachers as well as Ms. Witham has heard my exact same thoughts from March on. I was willing to brush the non-communication issues off at first and chalk it up to teachers trying to go with a new system, growing pains, etc, but all 3 of the teachers that I had communications with wanted to throw it back at my child. "It's all her fault. She could've asked for help if she didn't understand." Or as one passive agressive email from a teacher stated, "I can understand
      your frustration. On the other hand, I also take it upon myself to follow up
      with my children's teachers when I am not sure about anything (grade reports,
      progress, etc..)" That was copied and pasted. That's what I have been running into since March. My daughter's report card looked okay to me, as I did not fully understand the whole grading system at that time, so because I did not understand it that made me a neglectful parent concerning my daughter's education. So now it's my daughter's fault, my fault, but in no way were they going to take responsibility for their part. After the first meeting, I stressed weekly emails to let me know how she was doing; nope. I would have to email them. Teaching a child is one of the hardest careers out there, I have all the respect in the world for teachers, but getting comments like I had received, was starting to frustrate me and making me lose faith.

      I am very hopeful that the communication issue will be resolved. That is a major step right there. I had always been of the philosophy of keeping it simple. I came around, some what, to the idea of this new system; until March. I continue to be hopeful that things will get better. Not having a choice in my children's education is a hard pill to swallow. I considered home schooling, but I don't have the time, nor the patience. My schooling is done, I don't want to do it again ;) And as a poor working stiff, I don't have the funds to send them to another district or a private school. I want the very best education that can be offered to my child, so that they will be able to follow their dreams, whatever they may be, in the future.

      I do believe that no matter which educational model that the school follows, can be done in a simpler manner, so that everyone knows what is going on, teachers, administrators, children, and parents. More communication is a must. The parent who is a college grad as well as the parent who dropped out of high school to work to feed their family, they must all be able to understand how their children's education works. I know a lot of families with children in the district, and I've met a lot of new people through my children's athletics; everyone I have spoken to about school, has all had some form of frustration or another. I don't think I have met one that has not wanted the very best education for their children.

      I know I have been all over the place with these ramblings, I do apologize, but it feels great to get out these frustrations, and I keep thinking of more and more things I want to say. I do know that next year will be different, because this year has taught myself and my daughter a very valuable lesson. For her, it is important to do your work instead of mess around; and for myself, to be a pain in the butt and keep asking until I get an answer, or until I understand.


    5. Barbie, no need to apologize for anything. .. I'm glad I could help you to both express your frustrations in a way that will help inform our work moving forward, and to answer some questions you might have. Please know, I AGREE - "More communication is a must!" and we will be working to make sure that happens this coming year.

      This summer, the Board of Directors will be working with me to develop a Communications Plan that focuses on how we can increase productive communications and partnerships with parents across RSU 3. If you have any specific ideas, please feel free to share them either on this blog as a comment, or you can always e-mail me at I'd love to be able to incorporate some of your thoughts/ideas into our work on improving communications so please feel free to reach out.

      Thanks again Barbie. .. and PLEASE STAY IN TOUCH! :)

  6. Even though RSU 3's ship has sailed on the rhumb line of PBE, if I read the state faq correctly, we are not mandated to follow a particular course to reach the required graduation standards. Please clarify. I thought we were compelled to follow this course of travel and we had no choice in the matter. (Did I read that somewhere?)

    "Is shifting to proficiency-based education mandatory?"

    "No. What is mandatory is that by 2018, high schools will award diplomas that certify that students who graduate have demonstrated proficiency of the Maine Learning Results standards. How schools get students there is determined locally."

    Of course, I will always go with what is best practice for the kids based on the science and the peer reviewed literature. I assume that is what is steering our ship.

  7. Not sure what your question is here Dick, but just for clarity's sake. . . what is mandatory is that by 2018, high schools MUST award diplomas ONLY to those students who have demonstrated proficiency in the 8 contents of the Maine Learning Results and the Six Guiding Principles.

    It is true that the state is allowing local school units the flexibility to determine how best to do that, but "that" we all must do.

    At this point in time, much of our district's work is based on Marzano's Art and Science of Teaching Instructional Framework. That is very much a well researched and proven methodology for success in terms of classroom instructional techniques. What we are doing that is slightly different than some other Maine high schools is that we are NOT trying to take all of this work and simply layer it in on top of the old traditional structures of the carnegie unit or time based system. Instead, we are attempting to change our school's structures to directly honor the research and then build our systems around that research.

    Hope that answers your questions Dick - good talking to you! :)

  8. I've read the 5 or 6 guiding principles the state proposes but I see no way to objectively score these.

    Do you know where on the internet or in Marzano's book I can find the explicit directions for measuring a student's proficiency in, say, "Understands the importance of embracing and nurturing a growth mindset.?" Is there a test for this knowledge? I honestly want to know because much of what I am reading about the PBE system sounds vague on the one hand and circular on the other. I am not trying to be a pain, really, but questions must be asked and answers must be scrutinized.