WESTBROOK — Westbrook and Gorham school districts are sticking with proficiency-based education, which is no longer mandated by state.

The state last month pulled back a previous mandate that school districts implement proficiency-based education and left it up to individual districts to decide. Under the proficiency-based model, students must prove they are proficient in academic content areas before they can move forward.

“We are still moving forward. We are committed to this learning philosophy, ” said Peter Lancia, school superintendent in Westbrook, where the transition to the proficiency-based model began several years ago.

The system is fully implemented in the high school, and the class of 2019 will be the first class to graduate using it.

While preparing the first class to graduate under the system has involved a lot of work and communication with staff, students and parents, Lancia said, “from here on out, I would imagine it will be pretty smooth because the other classes have been raised in the system.”

Proficiency in that system is marked on a 1-to-4 scale rather than the traditional 0-to-100 scale and can be achieved a variety of ways. Students must show they are proficient in eight content areas in order to graduate: English, math, social studies, science, career/education development, world language, health/physical education or visual/performing arts. What proficiency means and how to achieve it is up to the individual school districts. Westbrook, Lancia said, has come up with a variety of paths toward proficiency that are “determined by student need.”

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A student in Advanced Placement classes, for example, may pursue different pathways than an individual in special education classes.

“The standards are the same, but the way they achieve them are dependent on their abilities,” Lancia said.

The transition to proficiency-based education is still underway in Gorham.

“Now that the state has changed its mind, which it, unfortunately, seems to do all too often, we do not intend on veering from the path that we laid out well in advance of the statute,” said Gorham  Superintendent Heather Perry.

“From the beginning, Gorham has taken this work very slowly,” Perry said. “We have worked intensely with teachers to first build a solid foundation for our system based upon the development of clear graduation standards, performance indicators, and learning targets all with a complete and thorough set of scoring criteria associated with them.”

Gorham’s proficiency-based system has been implemented in kindergarten through sixth-grade and beginning this school year, it will extend to seventh-grade as well as eighth-grade science and allied arts. High School students, Perry said, will use “a blended grading scale” to slowly introduce the approach there and give teachers, students and parents time to understand the system and why it is important.

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Perry said Gorham’s proficiency-based system “maintains all the great practices from traditional systems that we are all familiar with,” including both group and individual work, homework, tests, quizzes and assigned projects. It also maintains the honor roll, high honor roll and grade point average found in the traditional model.

“Our students, just like in the traditional system, can choose to do just what is needed to get by or challenge themselves, as we encourage all our students to do,  to excel and demonstrate deeper learning and deeper understanding in multiple ways,” she said.

Proficient in Gorham is defined as a score between 2.5- 3.0 on the 1-4 scale or between an 80-87 on the blended scale for 2018-2019. Above a 3.0, or 90 in the blended system, is considered distinguished, while a 2.0 to 2.25, or 73 to 77, is considered developing. Below that is considered emerging, but is not a passing grade.

Westbrook is also using a 1-4 scale, with 4 being advanced, 3 proficient, 2 partially proficient and 1 needing improvement. High honor roll would include 3.7 to 4.0, and honors 3.2 to 3.6 at the middle school and high school.

Perry said still more work is needed to iron out the wrinkles and strengthen the system to make sure it is preparing all students for a successful future. The goal is to have a K-12 proficiency-based system in place by the 2020-2021 school year.

In a statement following the passage of the law erasing the mandate, Gov. Paul LePage said he hopes it “is not just an effort to undo something; I hope it is a chance for the Maine Department of Education to continue moving forward in helping Maine school implement best practices for student learning.”

He said he still feels it is “important for all kids to leave high school having met the standards in all eight content areas, but we need to rethink how we achieve that goal.”

Auburn is one of the districts in Maine that has decided not to go ahead with the proficiency-based education approach for students in seventh through 12th grade.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews.


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