Principal Paul Russo explained the new system of performance-based assessment to parents of students in third- through eighth-grade at Lincolnville Central School Oct. 9.

The system, implemented last year for students in kindergarten through second-grade, is based on Common Core State Standards already adopted by 45 states and mandated by Maine law.

Russo made a detailed, two-hour presentation of the new approach, explaining the rationale behind it and the intended results. Some of the main differences under the new system are that students will be expected to apply what they have learned more than in the past, and grading will be used to show students and their parents more specifically where the student should focus or might need extra help.

"The standards present a much clearer understanding of what students need to know and be able to do," Russo said.

He added assessments, via tests and other means, will specifically measure what students know and can do, and grades will show how well students are meeting the standards, rather than comparing students’ performance to their peers’.

The new standards are intended, Russo told parents and community members, to improve student achievement and help students gain the skills they need for success in college, careers and life.

Working together, school officials in Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville agreed on certain Common Core standards they believed were essential. They reviewed all the standards, asking which ones had lasting value, were useful in many disciplines and were required for learning at the next level. Those that were deemed to meet all three criteria were considered essential, Russo explained.

He passed out sample progress reports for different grades showing the standards by which students will be graded. For example, in seventh-grade language arts, students will receive a mark on 25 standards divided into four sub-categories: reading, writing, speaking and listening and language.

Similarly, seventh-grade mathematics has 24 standards divided into five sub-categories: numbers and operations: the number system, ratios and proportional relationships, geometry, statistics and probability and expressions and equations.

For each standard, students will receive a numerical assessment from 1 to 4. A 1 means that with help, the student of some of the simple and complex details and processes taught in class. A 2 means the student makes no major errors or omissions regarding the simpler details and processes, but does make major errors or omissions regarding the complex details and processes. A 3 means the student makes no major errors or omissions regarding any of the information or processes explicitly taught in class. A 4 means the student's performance exceeds level 3, adding in-depth inferences and applications that go beyond what was taught in class.

Russo said level 3 indicates proficiency with a given standard, and that is the level the school is aiming for with all students. Learning will be measured, not just at the end of a trimester, but along the way, so that students, teachers and parents know where to focus their efforts.

The new standards also call for increasing the rigor of instruction, requiring students to think more deeply and demonstrate the ability to apply what they have learned in class to real-world problems, Russo said.

During his presentation, he gave an example of increasing rigor: Instead of a test requiring simple "true" or "false" answers, the teacher might give a test asking students to mark as true those statements they believed were true, and re-write the ones they believed were false so the statements were true.

Measurements of student achievement are made using rubrics, tools that specify the criteria to be used in determining whether a student has met a particular standard. Rubrics do not dictate how testing or assessment should occur, but they ensure that grades are consistent, accurate, meaningful and supportive of learning, Russo explained.

One topic on the minds of those in attendance was how students would move up to the next grade.

"Is there ever a point where a kid fails a grade?" asked one woman.

Russo said rather than failing a student, teachers should "teach and re-teach, chunk [class material] down into smaller parts until they get it. If failure's an option, people will use it."

Replying to a similar question from another parent, he said, "I'll be honest with you about retention. There isn't a bit of evidence that supports it."

In closing, Russo acknowledged that the new system, "is a work in progress for us," with rubrics and standards subject to revision based on experience.

He added his staff has worked hard to understand the theory behind the new system, and to implement it well, even instituting a program last year to improve writing instruction in all grades.

"I couldn't be prouder of our staff. I'm amazed at how much they've done and how much they're willing to do."

Courier Publications reporter Sarah Reynolds can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at sreynolds@courierpublicationsllc.com.