BANGOR, Maine — In order to keep in step with a major change that public high schools will embark on before 2018, the University of Maine at Presque Isle will move to a new system for evaluating students’ learning.
This style of educating, called proficiency-based education, requires that students demonstrate a mastery of certain predetermined skills, such as public speaking or using the scientific method, before they can move on in their academic career.
By law, students who graduate from high school in 2018 and thereafter will have to show that they have mastered the Maine Learning Results, a set of standards that hit on a range of content areas from math and English to career development, before they can graduate. The standards are aligned with the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
“Maine’s public high schools are transitioning,” said UMPI President Linda Schott at a press conference at the University of Maine System office on Thursday morning. “We know that there will be students graduating from those high schools and we want to be positioned best to receive them.”
To help facilitate that transition, and to attract students to Presque Isle, UMPI will adopt a similar style of educating.
“Students will learn and professors will teach differently,” Schott said. Students will have more “choices about how they acquire and demonstrate learning.”
Schott acknowledged that the details of how this will look for students have yet to be worked out. University officials also announced Thursday that they have received a $197,946 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation, a charitable organization focused on higher learning, which will be used to train 19 UMPI faculty members on proficiency-based education.
Those faculty members will figure out how to adopt this new system in time for a small cohort of freshmen who will enroll in the program next fall.
Ray Rice, a UMPI English professor and interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, said that instead of taking regular courses with credit hours, students will most likely join integrated learning communities.
“Imagine — it’ll be nine credit hours and it will be under a topic or a theme, such as sustainability and the environment,” he said. Students might work with an environmental studies professor, a geography specialist and an English professor. They would meet for three hours a week, much like a regular class, but spend the rest of the time working with professors on projects and contributing to online discussion boards.
The biggest difference between this type of system and a more traditional approach is that instead of simply receiving a grade, students will have to show that they met some of those proficiency standards. They might show it by writing a paper, giving an oral presentation or creating a video, depending on what works best with their learning style and what standards they hope to meet.
UMPI is the first university in Maine to adopt this type of education system, according to a press release announcing the transition, though other schools across the country are experimenting with something similar, including a program at the University of Wisconsin.
This transition by the university further cements in place the proficiency-based model that has been adopted by Maine high schools, according to speakers at Thursday’s press conference.
“This is something that’s not going to go away,” said J. Duke Albanese, senior policy advisor for the Great Schools Partnership and former commissioner of education, of proficiency-based education.
This move is sending “a powerful message,” said Yellow Light Breen, a board member of Educate Maine, a business-led organization promoting college education and career readiness.
“It says in a very concrete way … we get it, but not only do we get it, we’re rewarding it,” he said, describing UMPI’s embrace of proficiency-based learning.
UMPI will implement this approach throughout the university over the next three to four years, Schott said. UMS chancellor James Page indicated that other schools throughout the system would be watching and some may implement all or some aspects of the approach.