Portland officials who are updating the school district’s graduation policy in response to a new state law say every future high school student should complete an in-depth “capstone” project and apply to a post-secondary school or job certification program to get a diploma.

“It raises the bar,” Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said Tuesday.

Portland’s proposed changes are part of a statewide move toward “proficiency-based” diplomas, required under a state law that was passed in 2012 and will take effect in 2017.

Currently, the only publicly available measure of proficiency is the state assessment, which for high school juniors has been the SAT for reading, writing and math and a Maine test for science. A significant percentage of students score “significantly below proficient,” according to test results.

In 2012-13, 37 percent of all Maine high school juniors — this year’s graduating class — did not meet the state standards in math or reading, according to the Maine Department of Education.

In Portland, juniors at Deering and Portland high schools scored “substantially below proficient” in all four testing areas. About 48 percent were substantially below proficient in science; about 40 percent fell short in math; about 33 percent were substantially below proficient in reading; and about 30 percent were substantially below proficient in writing.


The graduation rate at Portland High is now 77 percent. At Deering and Casco Bay high schools, it is 81 percent.

The new standard won’t be based on scores on a state assessment, but on standards outlined by the state learning results and each district’s decision on how to measure proficiency.

For example, the state standard may require that a student be conversational in another language, but the school district would determine how to assess “proficiency,” whether it’s a test, an oral exam or a third-party assessment. A student might score partially proficient on a written test and be able to complete “proficiency” for the remaining portion some other way.

Under the law passed in 2012, schools can trade letter grades for number grades, or eliminate age-based classes. Schools must allow students to demonstrate proficiency in a variety of ways, from traditional tests to portfolios, performance, internships and projects.

“The idea of the state statute is that credits are no longer markers toward graduation, but rather that proficiency is,” said David Galin, chief academic officer for Portland schools. “Some might hit that proficiency after three years of high school. Some might hit it after five years of high school.”

One example he used was opening the foreign language requirement to languages beyond those taught by Portland teachers, so a student who already speaks another language could meet “proficiency” immediately. That student could continue to study languages, or move on to something else.


“It gets away from the idea of seat time,” Galin said.

This fall’s incoming high school freshmen — the class of 2018 — will be the first to graduate under the new standard. All school districts must adopt new proficiency-based graduation policies by the time school starts this fall.

Under the proposal from Portland’s Graduation Task Force:

n Students must meet state and local standards for English, math, science and technology, social studies, health education and physical education, visual and performing arts, world languages, and career and education development. The state requires a minimum of 12.5 credits in specific areas; Portland’s proposal outlines 31 credits in those areas and 10 credits selected by the student in areas of personal interest.

n Each student must complete a “capstone” project that demonstrates in-depth research, presentation and technology integration skills.

n Each student must apply to college or some other post-secondary educational institution or training program, including the military.


School board members said they are still discussing several aspects of the proposal, particularly the section requiring students to apply to college or some other post-secondary program. Marnie Morrione, chair of the board’s curriculum committee, said they debated that section at length.

“We’ve had a mixed response. We discussed leaving the language, editing the language, deleting the language. There’s no decision,” said Morrione, who said the committee wanted to hear the discussion at public hearings before making changes.

Public hearings on the proposed graduation policy are scheduled for June 3 at 6 p.m. in Portland High School’s Alumni Hall and June 10 at 6 p.m. in Room 250 of Casco Bay High School.

The full school board will vote on the new graduation policy on June 24.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

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