When it comes to education, there is no lack of public opinion. Since virtually everyone has had some significant experience in the classroom, we have also formed our own opinions on education. These opinions are built from our own unique vantage point and often vary widely.

However, agreement can be found on one front: There is no lack of jargon in education. Chances are, unless you are a teacher, support staff or administrator, you find the jargon unnecessary and confusing.

As we sit on the precipice of significant educational reform, it is important for the public to know what Maine educators are talking about: What is proficiency-based learning? How does standards-based reporting work? What is the controversy surrounding the Common Core? What is RTI, and what do all of those other acronyms stand for? What is involved in the new teacher effectiveness legislation?

Here is a “reader’s digest” version of educational reform efforts that are underway in our schools and in the news.

1. Standards

Standards refer to what teachers and schools want students to know and do in each unit. Standards are not new to Maine; the Maine Learning Results are standards that have been in place for several years.

What are new, and controversial, are the national standards that have been adopted by many states. These standards (the Common Core State Standards) are as close to a national curriculum in English/language arts and mathematics as America has ever had.

Similarly, the Next Generation Science Standards are proposed national standards for physical and life sciences and were slated to eclipse the Maine Learning Results. Although these science standards were supported by the education committee, the Maine House and the Maine Senate, Gov. Paul LePage recently vetoed their inception, leaving many science teachers confused as to which standards to teach.

Other subject areas, such as social studies, health, physical education, and the arts continue to follow the Maine Learning Results. Education decisions fall under state jurisdiction, yet many instruction and curriculum decisions are made at the district level.

2. Proficiency-based learning, standards-based reporting

These two terms essentially mean the same thing. There is a national move to clearly identify standards in which student performance will be judged. Lessons will build up to assessments (exams, papers, lab reports, etc.) that demonstrate a level of proficiency in that standard.

When students have demonstrated that they are proficient in that skill or knowledge, it will be noted on their transcript and report card. Middle and high school report cards will look more similar to elementary school report cards, where teachers report on individual skills or knowledge, rather than an overall grade based on averages of all of the work done in that class.

The purpose of this educational model is to improve communication between schools and families concerning the abilities and challenges of each student. Students will be expected to become proficient in all graduation standards before receiving a diploma.

3. Response to Intervention

In a proficiency-based learning environment, all students must demonstrate proficiency in all standards. No longer can students fail an exam, do well on the next exam and bring their grade up to passing.

So what do we do when students (inevitably) do not demonstrate proficiency in a standard? This is where a school will use its established Response to Intervention (RTI) system.

Faculty members will identify a strategy that could potentially be effective in allowing the student to demonstrate proficiency and try the strategy. If it does not work, a more invasive strategy is deployed.

Interventions range from allowing more time for students to complete their work to referring students for special services. Many schools schedule time for RTI work during the school day.

4. Teacher effectiveness

In 2012, the Maine Legislature passed into law An Act to Ensure Effective Teachers and School Leadership. This law requires school districts to create a “teacher effectiveness” scale that includes student test scores, among other parameters, in each teacher’s rating.

It’s controversial because students’ scores can change based on factors outside teachers’ classrooms that they cannot control. Districts are currently forming a committee to develop the model of teacher effectiveness rating for their district.

In my 12 years in education, I have never seen so much change at one time. This is exciting, consuming, stressful and revolutionary work that is underway in Maine schools.

I urge community members, especially parents, to learn more about these reforms and ask critical questions as Maine schools work through reform efforts. We all agree that Maine schools should be constantly reaching for excellence. We need to know whether we are reaching in the right direction.

Eric Varney, a science teacher at Morse High School, is the 2014 Sagadahoc County Teacher of the Year.