AUGUSTA — In a marathon session lasting more than eight hours Monday, dozens of people urged lawmakers to support legislation that would undo several of Maine’s recent educational reforms.

In a standing-room-only hearing room, they expressed support for eliminating Common Core education standards, dropping the annual Smarter Balanced standardized tests, and easing the new, more rigorous proficiency-based graduation standards.

“Under the present law, Common Core rules over our schools,” Rep. Karen Gerrish, R-Lebanon, told members of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, referring to a set of standards intended to define proficiency in English and math skills.

Her bill would require Maine to instead adopt the education standards that Massachusetts had before that state adopted Common Core. The bill also would drop the Smarter Balanced tests that are aligned with the Common Core standards.

“L.D. 1396 makes sense by returning control of our eduction to those who know our children best: our teachers and parents,” said Gerrish, backed by about two dozen supporters wearing bright green “No Common Core Maine” T-shirts and stickers. “(It) returns Maine’s education to Maine.”

That sentiment is part of a national anti-Common Core movement, and several states have dropped the standards in the face of parent and teacher protests.

Beginning in 2009, 45 states, including Maine, and the District of Columbia adopted the standards, and since last fall Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have dropped them. Opponents say the standards are developmentally inappropriate and part of federal efforts to nationalize education.

Committee members expected to hear testimony all day after bundling 10 separate education bills into a series of public hearings. They will take up the bills in work sessions at a later date.

But on Monday, a wide range of opinion was apparent. Some Common Core critics told the committee the standards were too hard, while others said they were too easy. Several people spoke in support of a testing “opt-out” bill, L.D. 695, which would require Maine to notify parents of their right to have their children opt out of standardized tests like Smarter Balanced; others opposed it.

It is already a parent’s right to opt out of testing, but parents testified that it isn’t clear how to do that, or that many parents don’t know they have that right.

Maine students began taking the new Smarter Balanced tests for the first time this spring.

Kyren Bettencourt, an eighth-grader at Gorham Middle School, said she took the Smarter Balanced test several weeks ago, and many students found it confusing.

“While some may believe we need standardized tests like the Smarter Balanced Assessment to make sure our children are being educated properly, I’d argue that it is jeopardizing our learning and making school a lot more unenjoyable,” she said. “I do not feel like a better learner after taking this assessment and I certainly did not have fun while taking it.”

Acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin said it was inappropriate for the state to get involved in notifying parents because participation is tied to a federal requirement that schools have at least a 95 percent participation rate in the test or they risk losing federal funding.

Another bill, L.D. 1386, would ease the state’s proficiency-based diploma system, which requires students to be proficient in eight academic areas, from math to foreign language. Under L.D. 1386, students would have to meet proficiency in two, not eight, academic areas.

“Believe me, I am not trying to lower the standards,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor. “I want high standards, but I also know that students want and need a high school diploma. You cannot do much without one. You cannot even volunteer for the military without one.”

Kornfield and others noted that the current requirements would inevitably result in students not getting diplomas, particularly special education students, since the standards are the same for all students.

Desjardin testified against Kornfield’s bill.

“Overcoming great challenges is always difficult, but worth it,” Desjardin said. “The battleship to improve learning in Maine has ever so slowly begun to turn. Please do not reverse the engines on that work and allow it, and education in Maine, to turn back.”

Currently, fewer than 50 percent of high school juniors test as proficient in math, science, reading and writing. Easing the new, more rigorous standards would perpetuate those results, Desjardin said.

“If we do not improve the quality of learning in our state today, we are dooming half of our young people to a life of intermittent employment and welfare,” he said.

He also noted that some districts, which set their own definition of “proficient” on the state standards, have decided a 70 percent grade would be considered proficient.

“If a C-minus is too tough, then what level is ‘good enough’ for a diploma in Maine? A D-plus?” he asked.

Maine adopted the Common Core standards in 2011 as the latest update to the Maine Learning Standards.

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

[email protected]