The Maine Department of Education’s new proficiency-based graduation requirements have sparked much debate; however, many educators and administrators are missing the intent of this new mandate.

Proficiency has been misconstrued to somehow mean mastery of a subject. However, in its essence, proficiency actually means to accomplish. Passing a driver’s test means one is proficient enough to operate a vehicle on the road, but it doesn’t mean one can race in the Indy 500.

In education circles, there are currently many examples of proficiency being employed. The NCAA requires a combination of grades, core courses and SAT scores to be eligible for Division I sports. New York state requires courses and successful passing of its state Regents Exams. Most colleges and universities have course requirements to demonstrate a level of proficiency for admissions.

However, the Portland School Board and superintendent, as of now, have missed the mark on this new requirement. The graduation requirement task force’s recommendation as put forth by the school board for public comment contains no definition of proficiency nor any examples of how to achieve it.

Instead, the board and superintendent have focused on a narrow local agenda centered on a capstone project and post-secondary education applications.

It’s time to seize this mandate as an opportunity to improve our students’ education. The board must create a working definition of proficiency and follow it up with recommendations that are logistical possible and economically feasible.

Using a combination of required courses, exams (written or oral) and/or work experience in the eight core areas, Portland high school students can be made to be proficient. The glass is half full, not half empty. Let’s use the state mandate as it was intended – to make education better and to make better students.

Dr. Tim Rozan