Massabesic Middle adjusts to standards-based model

Standards-based education allows Massabesic Middle School students control over the way they learn and how fast they do it.

EAST WATERBORO — The seventh-grade students at Massabesic Middle School are busy learning about revolutions. The topic has one definition in social studies class, another meaning in science, and another in English.

One student is creating a three-dimensional model to illustrate the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolution. Other projects deal with planetary revolutions around the sun. Another project addresses the revolutionary thinking in Ancient Greece and Rome that brought the world democratic forms of government.

The self-paced, self-designed, project-based learning is all part of the standards-based model of education Massabesic Middle School and a growing number of other Maine schools have adopted in recent years as they search for a way to engage students in learning and make sure they learn what they’re expected to learn.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen visited Massabesic Middle School on April 11 to see standards-based education in action.

The standards-based model — also called performance-, proficiency-, or outcome-based education — involves an entirely new design for instruction, classrooms and schools.

At the start of the school year, students set codes of conduct for their classrooms.

“We choose how we want to act, and we create a shared vision,” Massabesic seventh grader Keiloy Lynch told Bowen.

Article image: Posters with the words "Respectful," "Responsible" and "Creative."
The code of conduct established by students on Massabesic Middle School's Team Allagash.

Lynch’s class, for example, set readiness, respect, responsibility and creativity as its core values. Students shaped the code of conduct around those tenets.

When it comes time to learn a new unit, students lay out in a matrix what they’re going to learn, how they’re going to learn it, and how they’ll demonstrate they’ve actually met the learning targets.

“This way, you can show your evidence any way you want,” said Maddy Logan, another Massabesic seventh grader. “You can learn it any way you want.”

Once students show they’ve mastered the skills — or standards — required in a unit of study, they can advance to the next one — regardless of how far their classmates have progressed.

“You’re never waiting,” Logan said. “I like it a lot better because I’m a really fast learner.”

In Logan and Lynch’s class, wall charts show how far each student has progressed in the current unit. If a student needs extra help, he can first consult with a classmate who’s at the same stage or ahead of him.

Students who need to work more closely with a teacher can sign up for one-on-one time during a daily, 45-minute intervention period.

Report cards assign students grades of 1, 2, 3 and 4. Students earning 3’s and 4’s have mastered the standards.

In standards-based education, it’s rare for a teacher to lecture in front of an entire class. But direction instruction isn’t entirely absent from the educational model, said Frank Sherburne, Regional School Unit 57’s superintendent.

“The direct instruction is there in the small groups,” said Bill Zima, Massabesic Middle School’s vice principal.

RSU 57 — which serves Alfred, Limerick, Lyman, Newfield, Shapleigh and Waterboro — began the transition to standards-based education about three years ago. The York County district is one of six in Maine that have worked with the Alaska-based Re-Inventing Schools Coalition to train teachers and administrators on the new educational model.

More recently, according to curriculum coordinator Lori Lodge, RSU 57 has worked with Bloomington, Ind.-based Marzano Research Laboratory to align its standards and learning targets with the Common Core state standards.

RSU 57 plans to phase the standards-based system into Massabesic High School as the middle-school students familiar with the model move up.

Ultimately, RSU 57 could abandon age-based grade levels in favor of grouping students based on how far they’ve progressed in a particular subject area.

But before that happens, Lodge said, the school needs an education management software system known as E-ducate to track students’ progress and allow their parents to see where their children are.

“It might be a couple years out before we’re totally without grade levels,” Lodge said. “That’s a big step.”

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