Portland schools consider requiring internships, service, 2nd language to graduate

Posted Nov. 29, 2013, at 1:46 p.m.
Teacher Abdullahi Ahmed leads a vocabulary lesson in Arabic on Monday, Oct. 7, at Deering High School. The school is the first in Portland, and likely all of Maine, to offer Arabic as a foreign-language class.
Ben McCanna | The Forecaster
Teacher Abdullahi Ahmed leads a vocabulary lesson in Arabic on Monday, Oct. 7, at Deering High School. The school is the first in Portland, and likely all of Maine, to offer Arabic as a foreign-language class.
Portland School Board Chairwoman Kate Snyder
Portland School Board Chairwoman Kate Snyder Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — Future Portland high school students may be required to complete internships, community service projects and show proficiency in a second language in order to graduate.

Portland Public Schools Board of Education Chairman Jaimey Caron announced this week he has appointed a team to develop a new graduation policy by May of next year as the district seeks to comply with a state law requiring proficiency-based standards.

According to a school department announcement, next year’s freshmen will be obligated by state law to show that they’ve met at least comprehension standards in the subjects of English, health, physical education, mathematics, science, social studies, visual or performing arts, career development and world languages before they’re awarded a diploma in 2018.

Earlier this fall, Portland’s Deering High School became what is considered the first school in Maine to offer Arabic as a language course.

The new task force will now be charged with determining whether programs such as work internships, community service and what the district announcement called “other extended learning outside of school” should be cemented in school policy as demands of would-be graduates as well.

Leading the effort will be outgoing Board of Education member and former board chairwoman Kate Snyder, who was appointed by Caron to head the task force.

Other task force members include three representatives each from the Portland Education Association and Portland Administrators Association — the unions that represent the district’s teachers and administrators, respectively — as well as two educational technicians, three current students, four community members, two members of the school board, and two faculty members from the University of Southern Maine.

Educate Maine, a coalition of business leaders and educators, used Portland’s Casco Bay High School last month as the setting for its release of a report showing a discrepancy between the number of Maine high schoolers receiving their diplomas and those proficient in the subjects taught.

In a proficiency-based model, students advance to the next grade level by showing they understand the concepts they’re supposed to have learned to move up, rather than by obtaining a minimum letter grade or age.

Although 85 percent of Maine students graduate high school each year, the Educate Maine study found only 48 percent of high school juniors in the state are proficient in reading and math.

Reform advocates, including Gov. Paul LePage, have argued that trend leaves Maine high school graduates unprepared for college, lowers their success rates for college graduation and forces postsecondary institutions to spend too much money providing remedial courses to help them catch up.

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