Trimesters: An Exciting Shift for the Middle School

April, 2017
Meredith deChabert, Middle School Principal

In response to a recommendation from the Balance and Wellness Committee and after several months of discussion, this past January, the Middle School administration submitted a proposal to the Headmaster to shift to a trimester grading system in 2017-2018, instead of the current semester system. We recently received his approval, so we are pleased to announce that we will be making the shift to trimesters next year.* Such a shift presents many benefits for the unique academic needs of middle schoolers, and a number of key points factored into our decision to make the shift:

  • With trimesters, the first marking period grade will be a much truer reflection of student progress than first quarter grades currently are. The beginning of the academic year focuses on review work (dusting off the summer cobwebs) and establishing routines. With a longer first marking period, students, parents, and teachers will have a better sense of how a student is achieving once a more significant amount of new material is introduced. For grades 7 and 8, trimesters will also provide the opportunity to better assess math placement before too far along in the year for placement adjustments to be made.
  • Having longer grading periods will give greater importance to report cards and comments. The first trimester parent conference would also be more meaningful as student work for a third of the year, not a quarter, would be a part of the discussion.
  • Trimesters can also reduce the stress that naturally accompanies grading periods. Three longer marking periods versus four shorter ones may effectively reduce the amount of stress and anxiety experienced by our students. An outlier grade could be more easily absorbed within a larger sample of grades provided by trimesters.
  • A trimester model creates the opportunity for a different electives model in grades 7 and 8. Three marking periods allow for more flexibility in how we offer electives and for how long. In grades 7 and 8, students will be able to take three electives in the time that they currently take two, thus increasing their exposure to the wide variety of courses that they will see in the Upper School. A trimester-long elective also meshes well with the attention span of many middle schoolers! The shift has forced us to re-evaluate the electives curriculum, and we anticipate even more evolution of our offerings as we learn from the 2017-2018 academic year. We extend heartfelt thanks to our electives teachers and their department chairs for the creative and thoughtful work they put into our new electives model and their departmental offerings.
  • Trimesters encourage more focused and deeper learning. Academic teachers will have even more freedom to assess students differently, rather than squeezing in assessments in order to accumulate data for four marking periods.
  • Trimesters also coincide with more natural breaks during the year. Each marking period would end near a school break, so students will return from a two-week break closer to the beginning of a new marking period and not right in the middle of one. For grades 7 and 8, March exams would come closer to the end of a marking period, as well. 

We will, of course, continue to check in on student progress frequently, as we currently do with mid-term grades and interims, in order to make sure that student struggles are identified quickly and communicated to families and advisors. The Middle School also employs internal systems and protocols that enable us to identify students who are struggling even beyond these check-in points.

The members of the Middle School faculty are overwhelmingly in favor of this shift, and we are all looking forward to the possibilities that trimesters will afford us, including interdisciplinary units and new courses. The change in the way that we organize our grading periods has already ignited fresh and innovative thinking about our courses and possible intersections, and our hallways are abuzz with faculty energy and excitement.
*At the request of the Headmaster, the Upper School administration and the College Counseling Office also explored the possibility of a shift to trimesters, but because trimesters do not line up as easily with the college application calendar, the Upper School will not be making the shift at this time. As such, the Middle and Upper Schools will have different grading periods in 2017-2018, but the Middle and Lower Schools will be in tandem.