Bright Futures and Standards, A Superintendent’s Perspective


Superintendent of RSU2,  Don Siviski is a long time advocate of effective middle level education. In a recent interview, Superintendent Siviski shared some insights about Bright Futures and effective middle level education with me.  Here’s some of the highlights from the conversation.

CT: Don, What do you see as the connections between the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC), Standards Based Learning, and effective middle level education in Maine as articulated in Bright Futures?

DS: RISC is a personalized approach to learning where children are
grouped by performance and evaluated on attaining proficiency of standards or measured topics of the curriculum. Effective middle
schools group kids by teams of adults so a personalized/differentiated
learning experience and curriculum can be achieved for all students. RISC also addresses the pedagogy of teaching methods that includes “how to unpack a standard so kids can articulate why they need to learn and how they plan to approach evidencing that they have learned the objective”

CT: I believe you said something about the politics of RISC putting an end to using averages to assess standards?  Can you expand on this and explain what you mean by it?

DS: In most schools, if a child receives the following grades on the four standards in Math 40, 80, 80, 80 their average is a 70 so they pass.  In a Standards Based world they would receive an incomplete until the deficit is addressed with a level of proficient performance. particular area of Math and would therefore possess the “I was never good at math” defense. Enter the world of “extra credit” and we see To continue to extrapolate the scenario this child could travel as a passenger through school never having to achieve comprehension in one another camouflage of true performance; we focus on two of the 80’s deficit remains, never to be addressed because ,”it’s now good enough” and bring them up to a 90 thus changing the average to 75; yet the to pass. This falsely represents what a student knows and is able to do, and is unethical.

CT: What’s the problem with using grades as an incentive (threat)
rather than as formative assessment (diagnosis) for informing

DS: Comparing (rank ordering) kids and working to get an honor roll distinction or a cut throat GPA for top ten status while including effort, attendance, conduct, homework, class participation, community service (gifts?) within the “grade” is unethical.  Academic performance needs a clean, clear, and defensible report; as do all the other considerations exhibited by a child at school.  To be able to advise/inform the parent about ten pieces of distinct data rather than
an amalgamation reduced to a single letter grade report is
deceptive/confusing. Think about a child’s performance report that exhibits the following; (four point scale)  1 in Homework, 4 in each of four standards, 2 in behavior, 2 in attendance, 4 in class participation, tells a story (this kid needs a challenge) much different than receiving a B- on the report card. It also tells me that grouping this child with age level peers is holding him/her back and he apparently needs an academic challenge and an advisor discussion about promptness of homework and classroom behavior.

CT: Can you explain the difference between Standards Based and Standards Referenced?

DS: With standards based assessment the student needs to attain each standard to a level of proficiency with incomplete status being a 2 and do-over at 1.  Time is a variable with learning being the constant. Standards referenced assigns a cross walk from the 1-100 scale to a 1 to 4 scale and utilizes averaging to attain a course grade.  Time is the constant with learning being a variable.  Students simply do not learn all at the same pace. So why should we insist that assessment be time dependent?

CT: You talk about students “going along for the ride v. students
driving”…how does this relate to middle level, Bright Futures, and standards based learning?

DS: When the student is driving, learning is: active, engaged,
multiple learning styled, multi-sensory, attentive to others, personally owned, individually paced,  performance based, standards achieved and evidenced.  When the student is just along for the ride learning is all about sit and git, being a spectator, survival, droning out, misbehaving, criticism, texting, cheating, etc. Middle level philosophy as articulated in Bright Futures is about active, student centered learning within a team based climate investigating innovative and engaging new learning pathways. Standards based education is about evidencing and ensuring that learning occurs from the students’ involvement in the learning process.

CT: Talk a bit about the Boy Scout merit badge metaphor of Standards
Based Education.

DS: The merit badge concept was introduced to me in 1998 by Bud Spillane and Tom Payzant and contained in a book called the Superintendent of the Future. Basically Boy Scouts earn a merit badge after demonstrating what know and can do about the subject. They receive a syllabus of expectations that need to be achieved. They select a merit badge advisor from the troop and/or expert from the community from which to learn specific skills contained in the merit badge pamphlet.  Once they feel confident of having attained the objectives stated they ask for a meeting before the review committee of that badge.  Usually the candidate presents to the mentor/advisor and expert and other adults in the troop organization.  These adults assess his proficiency and determine if he meets or exceeds the standard or is deficient and needs more work.  The advisor usually coaches the scout not to present if they are deficient in required skills and knowledge. The scout is informed about what skills need to be learned, knowledge attained, and then demonstrated; no guess work, no averaging!

CT: Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule to chat with us Don. Anything else you want to add?

DS: Probably much much more so the following link provides more insight!!


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