June 21, 2018
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No grade levels? No letter grades? Rockport conference to tackle questions about standards-based education

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

ROCKPORT, Maine — Teachers, parents and taxpayers have many questions about standards-based education, a way of teaching that asks students to master different subjects at their own pace. A conference Thursday at the Samoset Resort will gather 100 teachers and local school administrators along with experts to talk about how to implement the approach. There also will be a public meeting at 6 p.m. for community members to ask the Maine Department of Education commissioner questions about his push toward standards-based education.

“We’ll bring in experts from around the state who are already doing this standards-based work to start the conversation at the educator level. They want to know the nuts and bolts about how this actually works in a classroom,” said Alan Hinsey, the executive director of Many Flags One Campus Foundation, which is hosting the all-day conference. Many Flags’ goal is to host a high school, vocational school and colleges in one building in the midcoast. WIthout state funding to do this yet, the nonprofit has been working to host educational forums in the area.

Teachers will take the day to attend various workshops. Then, that night, the public will get to ask their questions of Stephen Bowen, the education commissioner. The two things people tend to worry about is the abolition of age-based grade levels and grade letters, according to the Maine Department of Education’s spokesman David Connerty-Marin. In standards-based education, students are told what skills and subjects they must master, and when they do, they can move on to the next level. No A, B, C, D or F — the student either is proficient or isn’t.

“If they’re struggling with math concepts, you don’t want to rush them through one math concept to rush on to another math concept that they won’t understand. Meanwhile, they do great with reading, so let them move on there and work with them on math.”

The students who do well and move quickly through material — the typical honor roll students, — won’t have GPAs their parents can brag about. But colleges have other ways to test knowledge, Connerty-Marin said.

“We are hung up on who is on the top of the heap and whose second or third from the top. Colleges can figure that out. They don’t need grades to figure it out,” Connerty-Marin said.

Many Flags hosts two conferences a year in the midcoast about education. When Hinsey asked superintendents what they wanted to discuss this time, they all agreed: standards-based education. Originally, Many Flags wanted to have about 50 teachers from Belfast to Waldoboro come and talk about the issue, but Hinsey got so many requests that they allowed 100 more.

“These districts had to get substitute teachers to send these teachers here. They were willing to pay for it — that’s how important this is,” said Hinsey. “Standards-based education is coming. It’s coming. It’s moving this way in Maine. The DOE is moving it forward. So how will this work in our classrooms? I hope this makes it less scary for people and I hope people ask the right questions because we want this to work. We want parents and community members to get their voices heard.”

Correction: An early version of this story requires correction. The public meeting in Rockport will take place at 6 p.m., not 7 p.m.

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