The Westbrook School Committee has suspended a part of its policy governing graduation requirements.

The committee’s action relieves current freshman and sophomores from having to pass assessment tests as a requirement for graduating. The students will still be required to take assessment tests but their graduation will no longer hinge upon passing the tests. The change will not affect current juniors and seniors who will graduate based on the number of credits earned.

The fate of students currently in lower grades depends on the state. At present, state regulations require that assessment testing be part of graduation requirements beginning with students currently in the sixth grade.

The move by Westbrook comes in the wake of confusion from the state level regarding standardized testing under the Maine Learning Results.

Since 2002, when the state first passed regulations phasing in mandated standardized tests as a part of graduation requirements, confusion has reigned. School systems have scrambled to develop tests so students will be able to perform the tasks required by Learning Results. Meanwhile, the state has modified the program several times.

“The frustration comes from the rules of the game changing,” said Westbrook High School Principal Marc Gousse. “It’s like building a sand castle, then all of a sudden it gets washed away. The legislation was written so that all kids should meet certain standards by such and such a date, then (the state) put it off a few years.”

Last spring, Maine Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron wrote a letter to educators around the state outlining proposals for a “mid-course” adjustment of the Learning Results.

The letter stated that although the regulations “were developed with extensive technical and policy advice, implementation of the guidance, in school administrative units across Maine, has encountered a number of challenges and capacity issues.”

According to Gousse, the Westbrook school system is fairly well advanced compared to most other school systems in the state. Because of this, the state’s changes affect Westbrook more because the school system has put more work into get the testing system up and running.

In the fall, Gendron released a proposed revision of the regulations and said that the state would implement the revisions some time in the spring of 2006. However, the proposed revisions raised concerns from many educators.

“There have been major concerns from everywhere about the proposed revisions,” Westbrook Assistant Superintendent Jan Breton said. “It seems as though almost nobody is really satisfied with what’s going on. The schools are very confused. There’s no clear direction from Augusta. They’re struggling. We’re struggling.”

According to Gousse, if the state regulations and the Westbrook policy are placed side by side, “You need to be well-versed not only in the law but also in education to understand them. I’ve been in education for 25 years, and I still get puzzled.”

On the state side of things, Representative Connie Goldman of the Maine House of Representatives has said that while things are taking longer than expected, the move towards an assessment system as part of graduation requirements is still going forward.

“The commissioner needs time to look at what works and what doesn’t,” said Goldman. “(This is) a pause. The vision of Learning Results is alive and well.”

Regarding the proposed revision of the state regulations, Goldman said her “anticipation is that we will see material by April.”

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