Middle School Curriculum Guide
- Academic Expectations
- Grading & Reporting System
- Homework Policy
- GRADING & ASSESSMENT PHILOSOPHY
- STANDARDIZED TESTING
The Middle School addresses the distinctive needs of students in Grades 5 through 8. We appreciate and understand their joys, challenges, and developmental changes. We also recognize their vulnerability and learning differences in this remarkable transitional period. Our program provides the support and guidance that allow students to develop independent thinking, intellectual integrity, and physical, personal, and social maturity.
Acting as a bridge between the Lower and Upper Schools, the Middle School reinforces and applies skills previously learned and stimulates each student's emerging ability to think abstractly and reason logically. The program emphasizes the development of healthy work and study habits to ensure success with the ever-increasing demands of academic studies, and it offers students the opportunity to explore and make choices as they mature.
By the time students leave the Middle School, they are expected to have mastered the guidelines put forth in each academic discipline. We also expect that they will have become confident and capable students in all spheres of their learning. The curriculum is designed to help students strengthen the following study skills:
- preparing efficiently for class and for tests
- managing time successfully
- using various tools, including the Internet, for research
- taking notes
- following directions
- having a good sense of organization
Just as important, the program helps students develop the following social skills, which enable students to be happy, contributing members of the school community:
- a positive attitude
- kindness toward others
- pride in self
- working well within a group
- respect for others
This guide is an overview of the Middle School curriculum. As with any good program, changes and revisions are constantly being made to meet the needs of our students.
RCDS is a college preparatory school. Students are expected to devote themselves to the academic requirements set forth by the School. Continued attendance at RCDS depends upon the student’s maintaining what is, in the opinion of the School, a satisfactory academic level of achievement.
All students in the Middle School take courses in English/Language Arts, Mathematics, History/Social Studies, Science, and Foreign Language. Students are placed in classes by the Principal and Assistant Principal after careful consideration of all factors that affect the educational development of the individual student. Recommendations of past teachers, class balance, social traits, and previous record are factors that are evaluated. Parents are asked not to request the assignment of their children to specific sections or teachers but to accept the School's professional decision as to appropriate placement.
In each academic class, grades are primarily based on student comprehension of course content as demonstrated through tests, quizzes, written and oral exercises, projects, and presentations. A student is expected to participate in a positive and cooperative manner and to be punctual and prepared for each class.
The Middle School report card provides two different grades for students in their academic classes: an achievement grade and a homework grade. The achievement grade is based on formal assessments, projects, and essays, and it is the grade that is entered onto the student’s official Middle School transcript. The homework grade is based on the student’s completion of homework. For specials classes (e.g. band/chorus, shop, art, computer, etc.), the achievement grade reflects a student’s level of effort and participation, and homework grades are reported only when appropriate.
A checklist and a narrative comment for all classes accompany each set of grades. The checklist reports on “behaviors that promote learning,” with the aim of providing a clear presentation of how a student approaches his or her class work each day. Listening respectfully to teachers, managing materials, remaining on task, working well within groups, and seeking help when necessary are valued student behaviors that serve our students well when they become everyday practices. The responses used in the checklist are Frequently, Sometimes, Rarely, and Not Applicable.
The letter grades below represent the following:
- E = EXCELLENT (90% - 100%)
The student's performance in all areas of the course is outstanding.
- G = GOOD (80% - 89%)
The student's achievement is of substantial quality in relation to the course standards.
- HP = HIGH PASS (70% - 79%)
The student has displayed competency in the course.
- P = PASS (60% - 69%)
The student has met the minimum requirements of the course.
- U = UNSATISFACTORY (below 60%)
The Student has failed to meet the minimum requirements of the course.
These grades are for non academic subjects and physical education.
- S = Satisfactory U = Unsatisfactory
Progress reports are written three times a year: late November (first trimester), early March (second trimester), and June (third trimester and year). In between these reporting times, a student's progress is closely monitored. If a student is having difficulty, parents can expect to be contacted by the teacher, the Advisor, or the Dean.
If, at the midpoint of a grading period a student is averaging a low HP or any grade in the P or U range, the student’s parents will be notified via e-mail by the student’s teacher.
Homework Philosophy: The RCDS Middle School believes that homework is essential to fostering students’ independent learning. In all grades, homework is assigned for a number of reasons: to reinforce classroom content, to check for students’ understanding of the material, and/or to afford students an opportunity to practice skills learned in class. Homework may also be assigned so that students can preview material before a lesson (for example, a reading assignment that will be the basis of the next day’s lesson). In all cases, students are encouraged to work through the homework independently and to the best of their ability, using the strategies that they have been taught. Given the purposes for which homework is assigned, all homework is either checked and/or incorporated into classroom lessons each day.
Homework Completion Times: We understand that our Middle School students lead busy lives outside of school, but we ask that parents help students achieve balance in their lives by ensuring students have the time available in their schedules to complete their homework. The time expectations for homework completion differ at each grade level and in each course. In Grades 5 and 6, the completion of homework assignments averages about 60 to 80 minutes. The time commitment increases to approximately 120 to 150 minutes in Grades 7 and 8. At any grade level, the time that it takes for a student to complete homework will vary depending on the individual child.
2/3/4 Policy: A student may have no more than two assessments in one day, no more than three assessments over two consecutive days, and no more than four assessments in one week (Monday through Friday).
Assignment Sheets: Assignment sheets for the week will be posted by class time on Monday of each week. Changes to assignment sheets must be posted by 2:00 p.m. on the day of the change, and changes are limited to one change per week.
Assigned Reading: Any reading assigned should be able to be completed within the recommended amount of time for the average student in the class.
Homework Adjustments: Teachers will consult the test calendars when planning assignment sheets, and they will lighten their homework, as much as possible, when assessments are scheduled.
No Homework Days: Teachers may opt to assign no homework approximately once per week, if possible, given the demands of the curriculum.No Friday Homework: Students in Grade 5 will have no homework on Fridays and no Monday assessments. Students in Grade 6 will have no homework on Fridays and no Monday assessments until after winter break (except reading in LA and drop days for science and social studies).
At the beginning of the school year, every Middle School student’s Advisor will contact the advisee’s parents for the purpose of introductions, answering questions, setting goals, and helping with the beginning of school transition. At the end of the first trimester, parents, Advisors, and students in Grades 6, 7, and 8 will meet to review the first trimester reports. Because students in Grade 5 are new to the Middle School, they will not be present when parents and Advisors meet to discuss the first trimester reports. Appointments for Conference Day are scheduled by the School several weeks in advance. During the year, additional conferences may be arranged when necessary. Parents are encouraged to call their child’s Advisor or Dean if they feel the need for such a conference.
Why We Assess: Assessment serves a number of important functions in the Middle School, the most valuable of which inform instruction. Assessments help teachers and students gauge whether they are meeting curricular goals by providing a framework for students to demonstrate and apply what they have learned and for teachers to assess whether students are learning what teachers are teaching. Assessments also help teachers gauge what students know before, during, and after learning specific material. They allow teachers to measure student progress over the course of the academic year, as well as provide feedback for teachers to target topics for re-teaching or extra help. By informing instruction in these ways, assessment helps prepare our students for the next level of learning.
Assessment, as an extrinsic motivator in the Middle School, also serves as incentive for students to study, develop, and improve. Different kinds of assessments hold students accountable for their learning until their motivation for learning becomes intrinsic. Assessment also provides a venue for students to develop a sense of accomplishment and gain confidence as learners.
How We Assess: A wide variety of types of assessment help teachers and students to achieve specific learning goals. It is important to note that teachers use both formative and summative assessment in gauging student progress. Formative assessments are low stakes, ongoing types of assessment that can be used to monitor student progress at any given point. Summative assessments are medium to high stakes tools that evaluate student learning at a natural mid- or end point of an instructional unit. In the Middle School, we aim to strike a balance between formative and summative assessment. Our goal is to offer enough formative assessments so that evaluation is not unhealthily stress-inducing.
Both Formative and Summative
Analytical writing – essays, research papers, etc.
March Exams (grades 7 and 8)
Projects – individual and group
Performances – skits, scenes, rehearsals, plays, concerts
Exit passes/slips; entry slips
There is no ideal range of weight for each type of assessment, except for the general rule that summative assessments often weigh more than formative assessments. Each academic department is encouraged to engage in annual, ongoing discussion about learning benchmarks for each grade level in the Middle School and how each should be weighed. Department-based grading exercises (e.g. reflection on how one grades and what it shows one values versus what the department values) help to ensure that teachers are using comparable grading methods in order to balance teacher autonomy and equity for students. Middle schoolers perform best when they know what is expected of them, so departmental conversations about what is being evaluated through assessment are key.
Assessment Frequency: All grades in the Middle School follow the 2-3-4 rule when it comes to summative assessment. The policy states that a student may have no more than two assessments in one day, no more than three assessments over two consecutive days, and no more than four assessments in one week (Monday through Friday). The types of assessment that fall under the 2-3-4 rule include tests, quizzes, essays/reports/papers, projects, and presentations, all of which require advanced preparation outside of class.
Formative assessment in the Middle School happens frequently, if not daily. Because each grade level in the Middle School is developmentally unique, each grade level team has a particular approach to summative assessment that is appropriate for the students in that grade. In terms of frequency, summative assessment happens every two to three weeks in all grades.
Assessment Design: Independent school teachers benefit from a healthy sense of autonomy in curriculum and pedagogy, and assessment design is no exception. In the Middle School, grade level teams are encouraged to engage in annual, ongoing discussion about assessment design, similarities, and differences across subjects. The amount of information covered, the types of questions/problems, the length of responses, point values, partial credit, directions, and age-appropriate academic press are all topics that are discussed. For courses that have multiple teachers in a given grade level, teachers coordinate on assessment design so that the expectations for students in a given grade are comparable. Departments are also encouraged to help teachers within each department with types of questions, progression of level of difficulty, and use of common language.
As is the custom in independent schools, the Middle School participates in standardized testing in a limited way, using the resulting information as one of many pieces of data for evaluating a student’s abilities and achievements, including placement in math and Grade 8 science. Students in Grades 5 through 8 take the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) tests in the winter, and the results are made available to families after they are reviewed by the School. If parents have questions about their child’s ERB scores, they should contact the Middle School Office.