May 27, 2018
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Support may have shifted away from standards-based education bill

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would gradually shift Maine to a standards-based educational system that focuses less on traditional letter grades and more on proficiency could be stalling in the Legislature.

LD 1422, An Act to Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy, was discussed and amended considerably in the Education Committee but then approved unanimously several weeks ago.

But it has languished in the House because of growing unease by many representatives — Democrats and Republicans alike — that the bill would create an unfunded mandate for local school districts.

The bill as amended directs the Department of Education “to develop standards and procedures that enable school administrative units to transition to a standards-based system of education that awards a high school diploma based on a student’s demonstrated proficiency in the areas of assessment under state learning standards.”

In other words, students would be allowed to go at their own pace on a specific subject and, once they demonstrate mastery of that subject, would move on.

It also would allow the commissioner of education to “waive or alter the application of age-based and grade-based requirements in law.” This means that a 16-year-old could graduate high school if he or she has demonstrated proficiency in all areas or a 21-year-old could be held back until he or she masters all subjects.

That language seems less problematic than the mandate outlined in the bill that would require implementation by 2017 — or 2020, if a waiver is granted.

Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said he thinks some lawmakers have projected fear of other education proposals — specifically a proposal by the governor to expand school choice — onto LD 1422.

“The reality is that LD 1422, simply and very importantly, requires that a diploma have meaning and that it have the same meaning across the state,” he said. “There should be a measure that students are ready for success beyond high school.”

Connerty-Marin said although there is a mandate that schools move toward the standards-based system, nothing in the bill addresses instruction. In short, teachers can do what they have always done as long as their students meet proficiency goals.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen is a big supporter of standards-based education. Last year, he visited 2011 Maine Teacher of the Year Shelly Moody at Williams Elementary School in Oakland to see how Moody has used the standards-based model in her classroom.

Connerty-Marin said more than two dozen school systems across the state either have made the switch or are preparing to move toward standards-based education.

But not everyone is convinced it’s a good idea.

RSU 2 in southern Kennebec County began moving toward a standards-based education model in 2010 with the help of an Alaskan firm that contracted with the Department of Education.

Now, parents and educators in the district are saying the new system is not all it’s cracked up to be. It has worked for some but not all students and teachers and is still being implemented little by little.

LD 1422 is on the House calendar and could come any day. There is at least one amendment drafted and others could come as well now that some lawmakers appear to be getting cold feet.

Follow BDN reporter Eric Russell on Twitter @BDNPolitics.

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