In 2012, when Maine passed legislation requiring proficiency-based diplomas for all public schools, Falmouth began the daunting task of implementing the state’s new requirements.

Proficiency-based education or standards-based reporting radically changes the way student achievement is assessed and reported. These grading and reporting changes have resulted in confusion for students and parents regarding academic performance. Due in part to parent push-back, Maine reversed the mandate in 2018. Given the opportunity, many school systems jumped at the chance to abandon this new system.

Why then does Falmouth continue to implement an unpopular system with unproven results?

On its face, a proficiency-based education sounds like a good idea. Each child is required to prove proficiency in specific subject areas before graduation. To that end, Falmouth has adopted new language to report student progress. Elementary school students are assessed as either Beginning, Approaching, Meeting, or Extending the standard. Feedback for middle school students is in the form of Not Yet Meeting, Partially Meeting, Meeting, or Meeting with Sophistication.

Replacing the traditional 0-100 grading model with these fuzzy words, coupled with Falmouth’s inability to clearly define “proficiency,” has led to significant parent and student frustration. Furthermore, high school students are still assessed using the traditional grading model. Students entering high school have no understanding of how their achievement translates to the traditional grading scale which will be included on their permanent transcripts.

A fundamental element of the SBR philosophy is that each student progresses toward mastery of a standard at his/her own pace. To that end, students who do not meet the standard when originally assessed are given multiple opportunities to show proficiency by revising and resubmitting assessments. While this accomplishes the school’s goal of ensuring every student masters the subject being taught, it does nothing to teach students the value of working hard to meet a deadline. Many believe it promotes student complacency.

In addition, those students who initially meet the standard are not given the opportunity to retake assessments and elevate their progression to a “Meets with Sophistication.” In this way, Falmouth is signaling that it only cares about helping struggling students meet their potential. Schools have a responsibility to instruct and inspire all students, those who struggle as well as high achievers.

Under SBR, students’ work habits are evaluated separately from academic performance and do not factor into student grades. A school’s responsibility is to instill in all students the skills that will make them successful in their chosen path post-graduation, be it college, technical school or the working world. These life skills include critical thinking, diligence, accountability, working through adversity, and time management. By separating habits of learning from grading, Falmouth is signaling to students that these attributes are unimportant.

Quite the opposite. In life, strong work habits are the keys to success.

Maine students deserve a quality education encompassing informed instruction, clear and identifiable goals, as well as frequent, meaningful and measurable grades. Falmouth’s teachers work tirelessly to support their students and enrich their learning.

However, Falmouth’s SBR implementation has resulted in confusing, infrequent and uninformative reporting on student achievement. We must do better for our children.

Leslie Zamer lives in Falmouth and is an administrator of the Facebook group Falmouth Parents Push Back on Proficiency-Based Education.