Students at Adams Middle School are still expected to do their homework, but as of this school year, that work is no longer factored into their grades.

Students at Adams Middle School are still expected to do their homework, but as of this school year, that work is no longer factored into their grades.

"In a sport, you practice every night. That's the formative part," said Adams Middle School principal Debbie Seibel. That model is used to explain the process to students.

Seibel compared the new way of assessing student achievement to being on a sports team or part of the school band. If a musician shows up for concert without practicing, or an athlete comes to the big game without rigorous training, they're unlikely to perform well.

"They got that right away," Seibel said of the students. She said that students' grades are now based entirely on testing. Teaching is based on immediate intervention with students who struggle in any given subject.

The goal, said Seibel, is to eliminate the need for remedial teaching at the end of the year and not allow students fall behind throughout the school year.

"It's work," she said, "but we're seeing dividends."

Seibel said that during the 2008-09 school year, there were 134 course failures at her school. A program called the "Lunch Bunch," in which students could receive academic help during their lunch periods, helped considerably: Course failures dropped to 28 during the 2009-2010 year, and to 22 during 2010-11.

This year, Seibel predicts 16 course failures.

"Failure rates are down dramatically," she said.

Seibel said in years past, there would be students who would rather "take a zero" than apply themselves academically. Adams Middle School tries to discourage that kind of thinking with programs like "Smart Periods," where students can have individual instruction with teachers if they need help. Students are also permitted to retake tests on which they performed poorly, but they have to go through a reassessment process first - an effort to ensure the student understands the material before retesting.

"We want to intervene at that point, instead of waiting to remediate," said Superintendent Damien Bawn. He said reassessment is a required component of standards-referenced grading.

"Reassessment provides additional opportunity for a student to demonstrate success toward meeting a standard and is not merely to raise a grade, although that may be a function of reassessment," Bawn said.

He said when he was a student, some students would need remediation at the end of the year but they didn't always get it. They would continue to fall behind.

Bawn said the middle school's system stops that from happening and ensures that students know the material before moving to the next test.

"The (test) grades reflect what they know, and it reflects that to the parents," Seibel said. "We don't want to just move on. We'll keep working with the student."

"It's actually a great grading system. The students have to know their stuff," board member Amy Ramey said. While the entire state is moving toward the system of grading Adams Middle School uses, Johnstown-Monroe is not part of a statewide pilot program, as she said some people believe.

"It's kind of growing pains right now," Ramey said. She said some students are adjusting to the new grading faster than others, and it's actually more challenging for some academic high achievers who were accustomed to sailing through their studies without much effort.

In other district news, Ramey said the board will discuss specific goals for the district during the March 19 board meeting.