THORNDIKE — Mount View High School is poised to shift toward a new education system, one in which students are evaluated on how well they demonstrate their grasp of academic topics.
The school’s new principal, Cheri Towle, 40, said the system was used at the middle school in Topsham where she recently completed her principal internship. It’s known as standards-based learning and grading.
“I got to sink my teeth into it and see it in action,” Towle said.
She is reassuring parents, students and educators that, in her experience, this change will be for the better. A standards-based system, she said, provides clear objectives that students must meet in order to graduate.
“There’s more than one way to meet the objectives,” said Towle, who has taught for 17 years. “There are choices (for students) around how they learn those objectives. And that choice should increase student engagement.”
For example, a physical science class objective may be to understand and demonstrate Newton’s laws of motion. They are many ways students could show they understand the concept, Towle said.
Choices might include creating a children’s book about Newton’s laws; using computer software to create a jingle with the laws or drawing a cartoon or story board showing events that demonstrate each of the three laws.
Students could also write and act out a skit that depicts the laws, portray Newton debating the validity of each law, or role-play an interview with Newton in front of the class — and so forth.
What’s important, Towle said, is that the choices incorporate a range of learning styles.
Towle said she got “jump-started” on standards-based education about four years ago when she became a National Board certified teacher.
“It was a pretty rigorous process,” Towle said. She learned about modifying curricula to better engage students who learn differently and have varying abilities. “It’s student-centered,” she said of standards-based learning. “It focuses on who the students are and how the curriculum meets their needs.”
Differences between “standards-based” and “standards-referenced” systems are explained in Robert Marzano’s comparison chart on the Maine Department of Education website.
A standards-based system, according to Marzano, has a defined number of learning levels and students advance through those levels based on their achievement of the objectives and standards.
In other words, students advance at their own pace — learning is the constant and time is the variable.
By contrast, a traditional standards-referenced system flips that relationship, with time being the constant and learning being the variable. Assessments in that system compare student against student, and students with varying levels of knowledge advance through traditional grade levels at the same pace with students of similar age.
Towle said the shift to standards-based learning and grading at Mount View High School will be gradual.
“We don’t want to rush in,” she said.
In her career, Towle has taught second-grade math and science as well as high school forensics and physical science. Since 2004, she was science department chairperson at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, where she also participated in curriculum redesign and teacher evaluations.
Towle has a two-year contract at Mount View and will be paid $78,000 annually. The married mother of three and self-described bookworm said she knew as a young girl that she would either be a teacher or a pediatrician.
“Once I decided to be an educator (in her junior year of college), I never looked back,” she said. “I was always explaining things and was a straight-A student.”
District Superintendent Heather Perry said parents, school board members and students served on a hiring committee that selected Towle to replace Lynda Letteney, who retired in June.
Perry cited Towle’s energy, enthusiasm and understanding of how to implement standards-based instruction as key factors.
Towle, a 1989 graduate Skowhegan Area High School, was the first member of her family to complete college. In 1993, she earned a bachelor of science degree at the University of Maine.
This fall, Towle intends to have lunch with each high school student to learn what he or she values about Mount View and about education in general.
Towle’s son, Nathan, will be one of those students. The first-year student, who plans to play football for the Mustangs, will make the one-hour commute with his mother from Newcastle.
Football, particularly watching the New England Patriots, is a family interest. Towle said her family’s pets are named after Pats players.
During her first official week at Mount View, Towle penned a letter to staff members inviting them to visit her during the summer break. A retreat for department chairs is also planned.
“It’s a goal (for me) to understand the district as a whole and get to know the faculty and develop a vision we all agree on and move on,” she said.
Beth Staples — 861-9252