It is widely acknowledged that celebrating student learning is an important part of promoting student success. Messalonskee Middle School has implemented a new student recognition system this year to replace the traditional honor roll within the new standards based system.
The new system was developed by the students and fine tuned by staff with the goal of creating a system that made more sense with the new standards based curriculum and still offered a way to acknowledge student academic achievement.
According to a presentation given to parents by Principal Mark Hatch, “The Messalonskee Middle School honors system awards experience points for progress on learning goals. Students earn experience points as they certify on foundational knowledge, meet the standard, or exceed the expectation.” Students determined that certifying on the foundational knowledge of a learning target would award two experience points, meeting the standard itself would be worth three experience points, and that exceeding expectation required enough student incentive to warrant five experience points.
Within the new system the levels of recognition are still identified by the familiar labels of the old honor roll. In order to make honors a student needs a minimum of 140 experience points. High honors is a bit more complicated; a student needs to have at least 200 experience points and have achieved a proficiency score of 4, exceeding expectations, on a minimum of 7 learning goals. High honors with distinction requires a whopping 240 experience points and a proficiency score of 4 on at least 11 learning goals. The system has the added benefit of doubling as a monitoring system to make sure that students are on track.
Another major benefit, according to Mr. Hatch, is the fact that the point system’s design allows students to receive recognition for their strengths without their areas of weakness holding them back. Under the old system, a student who excelled in Math might never make the honor roll if they had serious struggles in ELA. With the new system, this is not the case. A student can gain their 140 experience points in their strongest subject and might even be able to climb to high honors still focusing on their strengths. The idea, however, is that success can lead to more success; in order to get to high honors with distinction, that same student might have to push themselves a bit more, or get a little more help with that class that has been an obstacle in the past. The recognition system as a whole is based on the idea that providing content standards and benchmarks can encourage students to develop intrinsic motivation as they progress.
The first recognition ceremony for the new Honor Roll will be May 16th in the PAC. Students will receive a card from their teacher and a pin designating their level of achievement. So far the system seems to be working quite well and students seem even more motivated than expected. The response has been so fantastic that the school is already considering raising the bar for next year to keep students challenging themselves. They also hope to have more frequent recognition ceremonies to keep students engaged and motivated and to allow them to track achievement over time.
In addition to the academic recognition piece, the staff members of MMS have refocused the Student of the Month ceremonies to recognize student development in the Habits of Mind learning targets. A particular Habit of Mind standard is chosen as the focus each month and classes have discussions focusing on that standard and the different ways to develop it. Each team then selects the student that has best demonstrated that particular focus during that month. These may not be the students who are achieving the highest marks academically, but they do excel at skills like empathetic listening, or problem solving.
The school media club then takes a picture of each student and pairs it with a write- up from the student’s team leader. The photos are displayed in the lobby for the month and three times a year all of that trimester’s honorees and their parents are invited to a breakfast to celebrate their achievement. The parents are sent home with a copy of the framed pictures and write up.
While these habits of mind learning targets are not so easy to mark as foundational, meeting, or exceeding, it is safe to say that they are skills that students need in order to be successful in many areas life. Skills such as listening with understanding and empathy, managing impulsivity, and responding to feedback are not only important life skills, they are also fairly difficult concepts to master during middle school. Mr. Hatch and the staff at MMS recognize the importance of acknowledging and encouraging the development of these skills.
The new student recognition system at MMS is well designed to both help monitor and encourage student progress and to help promote personal growth in both academic and personal skills. Celebrating the whole student in a variety of ways provides a supportive and encouraging environment that helps students strive for personal success.