Monday, July 28, 2014

WHS leads the way with proficiency-based education - By Michelle Libby

Windham High School principal Christopher Howell has been working with his staff for the last three years to get ready to implement the proficiency-based grading and diploma requirements that were supposed to go into effect last year and will be implemented at WHS this fall. 
All eight content areas have been thoroughly evaluated as to how this grading system will work with the curriculum. The content area are math, English/language arts, social studies, science, health and physical education, career prep, foreign language and visual and performing arts. 

According to Howell, every lesson was looked at to see how it would help students to meet the standards they need to pass a class and ultimately graduate from WHS. 

The school has been working with Great Schools Partnership and Angela Hardy was brought on as a coach from Great Schools to help with the implementation and connect the staff with resources they need. 

“She tells us we’re wrong if we’re heading in a direction we don’t want to go in,” said Howell. The cost of implementing the new system is $30,000 of a $40 million budget, he said. That money is used to pay for Hardy and her 20 days on site contract as well as teachers who work over the summer to continue development of the standards.  

One issue they have looked at is how to do this in the high school system so it meshes with what is happening at the middle schools and primary schools in the RSU. 

“The demands on high school is different from college or middle school,” said Howell. Colleges, employers and technical schools may or may not be familiar with what proficiency education is all about, he added. To that fact, WHS will continue to use number grades in addition to the proficiency-based system. “High school is the end of the line. We are certifying that (the student) met the standards,” said Howell. 

Although a student may meet all the standards that are set before him and he is able to graduate, that minimum requirement is not enough to market him, said Howell. Students will need to go above and beyond the required performance indicators to be ready for college or technical school. 

Higher education schools want to know what are the courses you took. So there will be two transcripts. One that is course based and one that shows the number grades. What exactly the course based transcript will look like is yet to be determined, Howell said, but he did say that attendance will be on the new report cards as well as student’s work habits. WHS is aware that the average student gets five minutes on the table at a college, so they want to work with that. 

The biggest impact will be on teachers, Howell said. Teachers will keep track of the grades and standards electronically through specialized programs created just for this. 

“There is transparency of the curriculum. Here’s what’s truly important. It has forced us to look at what we do and what we teach,” Howell said. 

Many high schools in the state have yet to start any type of evaluation of their curriculums to align with the new state mandated system, said Howell. WHS has been asked to be a model for other schools.
“We are being recognized as being leaders in this work,” Howell said. By mandate, schools must implement proficiency-based education in some form by 2020. 

Howell was also involved at the state level as one of three principals who were asked to help create the extension deadlines. Extensions were granted, however that will not stop WHS from proceeding forward. “I don’t think anyone feels like their ready, but they feel like they’re on the right track.” 

The content areas are identified as to what the standards are and the performance indicators are written. The students will have more opportunities to make up work and get ahead in classes with the new grading. It’s multi-aged schooling, which WHS is already doing, said Howell. Students will be allowed to double up in English classes or take online or adult education courses to demonstrate the mastery of certain standards. 

“They have to earn it,” said Howell of the proficiency-based diploma. 

To parents the way things are reported won’t look much different, he said. It’s how the information is collected and developed that will change. Although parents might be given more reporting on how their students is doing in relation to the standards. WHS will continue to use Infinite Campus. 

The RSU school board will hear all of the work done by Howell and his staff in the fall. “The School board should have the opportunity to discuss this publically,” said Howell. “The community should be proud of the work the teachers have done here.”

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