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Bangor Daily News

Maine will join seven other states in a pilot program designed to boost high school graduation rates and college readiness by instituting a ”European model” of instruction and assessments.

The voluntary program is slated to begin next year, according to David Connerty-Marin of the Maine Department of Education.

Among the expected changes are an emphasis on mastering skills and allowing students to progress through school at their own pace. Students would be able to ”test out” of high school after 10th grade and enroll in college.

Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Kentucky will also take part.

”If students are clear about what they need to achieve, they become much more engaged in their education,” Connerty-Marin said Wednesday. ”It’s rigorous coursework aimed at preparing students for college-level work.”

He said Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron will be meeting with school superintendents and principals in the next week to explain the program, which is being organized by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit National Center on Education and the Economy.

No Maine schools have signed on yet, but the National Center said in a press release Wednesday that 10 to 20 schools in each state will start the pilot program for the 2011-12 school year.

The news that Maine had signed on to the program surprised some, including Maine Education Association President Chris Galgay.

”For the last couple of hours, I have been on the phone trying to find out about this,” Galgay said Wednesday afternoon. ”I’m very frustrated. I know few of the details. It sounds absolutely like a major initiative, but it also sounds like a top-down decision — one of many made with no input from practitioners in the field.”

Galgay’s association represents Maine teachers, who will be critical to the program’s success, he said.

”This is a think tank in Washington who came up with this,” he said. ”I’m not questioning the commissioner’s sincerity on this. I just know that to have anything work, you’ve got to have everybody at the table to agree on the goals.”

Connerty-Marin disagreed with the ”top-down” description.

”If districts don’t want to participate, they don’t have to,” he said. ”This is an opportunity for districts that are looking to provide another pathway to students. It’s very in line with what we’ve been talking about over the years. There’s no imposition of anything here.”

A financial grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will help pay to institute the program, said National Center on Education and the Economy President Marc Tucker.

”By introducing these Board Examination Systems in pilot high schools in these states we will begin a process that will ultimately prepare dramatically more students for college success and greatly reduce the high number of students who now take remedial courses in college,” Tucker said in a press release.

Board Examination Systems are in place in Australia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Scotland, Singapore and parts of Canada and Germany.

Implementing this system could be a boon to Maine students, Connerty-Marin said. Maine already belongs to the New England Secondary Schools Consortium, which is focused on increasing the graduation rate to 90 percent and decreasing the need for remedial courses in college. Maine’s 2007-08 high school graduation rate was 83.5 percent.