NORTH BERWICK — Five years ago, we made a promise to Maine’s children.

Our lawmakers passed legislation pledging a goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate throughout the state by 2016.

Our leaders recognized that high school graduation was a first, crucial step toward acquiring the skills and education necessary to secure a career in the modern workforce. Those skilled employees, in turn, would help Maine remain competitive in a changing, global economy.

Maine is making progress toward this goal, and recently the Maine Department of Education announced that our graduation rates are up for the fifth straight year with a current graduate rate of 86.5 percent. That’s good news and Maine is going in the right direction, but there is more work to be done to make sure more students finishing high school are ready for the challenges of the modern workplace.

Improving the quality of our workforce is important to me not only as a proud Mainer, a father and as someone who has served on my local school board, but also as a business leader who has been the president and CEO of a Maine company for nearly 20 years.

As our state has worked toward the goal of a stronger workforce, we’ve adopted educational initiatives that have bolstered the effort. One of the major initiatives is proficiency-based learning.

Proficiency-based learning is an effective, efficient way to measure students’ college readiness and career readiness. Proficiency-based learning uses a combination of a curriculum focused on core subjects and assessments of student progress to create standards that help ensure Maine’s children are prepared for higher education and future jobs.

Proficiency-based learning also incorporates deeper learning, a newer educational approach that helps students master academic content while simultaneously developing valuable executive functioning skills.

These skills include problem solving, effective communication, critical thinking and collaboration – the skills that drive the success of Maine’s major employers.

That educational focus on core subjects, standards and deeper learning is essential to helping Maine close its troubling skills gap. A skills gap occurs when there are more jobs available than there are residents who have the education or expertise necessary to fill those jobs.

A research analysis by the business-leader group ReadyNation estimates that Maine will need an additional 15,000 high-skilled workers to fill the jobs of the future.

Better educational outcomes and skills development are necessary to close that gap. The innovative educational models used in proficiency-based learning can be a key part of the solution to this problem.

Another important element in education is an aligned assessment so schools and parents can evaluate progress and make adjustments to fit each student’s educational needs. Standards alone aren’t enough: In order to have an impact on student outcomes, there must be accountability. Parents can use assessments to see how their child is performing – and to hold schools accountable.

While our students’ results have been encouraging so far – and our high school graduation rate is up to a record high of 86.5 percent – we know there is still work to do.

Currently, half of our students need remedial classes when they enter the Maine Community College System, and 12 percent of students entering the University of Maine System are first required to take remedial classes.

Moreover, according to Educate Maine’s Education Indicators for Maine report, only 49 percent of Maine 11th-graders are testing proficient in reading and math. These are students who are finishing high school but are not ready to succeed. This must improve if Maine is to have the workforce it needs to remain competitive in the decades to come.

Thankfully, proficiency-based learning includes approaches to education that can create the types of learners who will be able to access higher education and better jobs. That matters to me as an employer, and that’s also why business leaders around the state support these standards. In fact, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and its more than 5,000 members overwhelmingly back the use of proficiency-based learning models in our public schools.

The future of Maine’s economy depends upon the caliber of our workforce. So, for the sake of our economy, for the sake of our future, and for the sake of our state, let’s keep our promise to Maine’s children by remaining steadfast in our support for innovative education models to help develop deeper learning skills, rigorous standards and aligned assessments.


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