The public will get the chance to weigh in on a proposal to eliminate proficiency-based diplomas, state lawmakers said Tuesday.

The idea, which surfaced as an amendment to a bill that would delay the diplomas a year, will be brought forward as its own bill so there can be a public hearing, said Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, co-chairman of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

The committee was scheduled to hold a work session on L.D. 1666, the bill delaying the diplomas, but it remained tabled.

“We want to make sure stakeholders get wind of this,” said Langley, explaining that it will be brought forward as a governor’s bill, one of the only ways to get a bill before the Legislature this late in the second session. He said the committee had seen a rough draft of the bill, but it was not ready yet.

Repealing proficiency-based diplomas would be a radical change in education policy. The proficiency-based diploma legislation, passed in 2012, was touted by Gov. Paul LePage as one of his key education reform efforts, which included introducing charter schools to the state and issuing A-F report cards for schools.

In the years since, school districts across the state have changed grading systems, altered the look of diplomas, changed class schedules and poured time and money into meeting the requirement and explaining it to parents and students. Some schools have already started issued the diplomas to graduates.

This year’s 13,500 freshmen are supposed to be the first class required to meet proficiency standards. To earn a diploma, they must show they’ve mastered specific skills – rather than simply completing a set number of courses and earning credits – in eight content areas: English, math, science and technology, social studies, health and physical education, visual and performing arts, world languages, and career and education development.

“If people out there would like to see a repeal of proficiency-based diplomas, come (to the public hearing.) Or if you support the work that’s been done and don’t want to see that repeal, come,” Langley said. “Whatever side of this fence that you sit on, what’s important is that we hear from the public at large.

“I predict that very soon, we will have a very long public hearing with lots of people in the room.”

In the weeks since Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, suggested doing away with the diplomas altogether, it has been unclear if that has broad support. Through an aide, LePage said he believes “the diploma should mean something,” signaling that students should need to meet some minimum, standard level of proficiency to graduate. The State Board of Education issued a letter last week calling the proposal “quite the opposite” of the intent of the original law.

Since introducing the amendment earlier this month, Sampson has argued that instituting proficiency-based diplomas is a failure and that Mainers have been “hoodwinked.

“After six years, since it passed in 2012, we still cannot prove that there’s any benefit to this approach. There is no proof,” said Sampson, a business owner and home-school teacher who has served on the State Board of Education and the Maine Charter School Commission.

Maine’s law was one of the first proficiency-based diploma laws in the nation after Rhode Island, and similar policies are in place in New Hampshire and Vermont.

The public hearing on the governor’s bill has not yet been scheduled.

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

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