Brewer’s school committee has agreed to a new graduation policy two months after teachers voiced their frustration that the city’s schools were not making large enough changes to abandon proficiency-based education and that they would bar students with special needs from participating in graduation with their classmates.
The city’s new graduation policy, which the school committee approved unanimously at a Monday night meeting, will allow a student with autism and an intellectual disability to participate in her class’ graduation ceremony this spring, even though she will have to return to Brewer High School in the fall for a fifth year of high school.
The policy will apply to all students in the district’s Transitional Advantage Program, allowing them to participate in graduation ceremonies with the students with whom they began high school, even if they need to return to school the following fall.
Parent Jenn Newcomb had asked the school committee in February to rethink an old draft of the policy that would not allow her daughter, Sydney Newcomb, to participate in the graduation ceremony with her classmates before coming back to finish her fifth year at the high school.
Also in February, Brewer High School teacher Glendon Rand presented a survey in which a large majority of high school staff had expressed disapproval of the district’s intention to retain some elements of a proficiency-based system despite a 2018 legislative vote that repealed a state requirement that schools ultimately issue proficiency-based diplomas.
Under a proficiency-based diploma, students have to show they have mastered the state’s various academic expectations in the required subject areas in order to graduate. Despite the mandate’s repeal, Brewer was contemplating a dual grading system that fused traditional course credits and grades with proficiency-based elements.
The new policy passed by the school committee reflected the changes that Newcomb and Rand wanted.
In addition to allowing Sydney Newcomb and their classmates to participate in the graduation ceremony with their classmates, the policy also removes the dual grading system Brewer was considering.
“It’s exactly what I was asking for, for changes,” Newcomb said. “I am thankful to the committee, administration and superintendent, and I really hope this is a model of policy moving forward for other school districts.”
Rand agreed, saying that staff had been consulted multiple times since voicing their frustration and were much more supportive of the new policy.
“I’d like to thank the school committee for being receptive to our concerns and for taking another look at the policy and for the revisions,” he said. “I’d also like to thank the administrators for meeting with the faculty.”
Superintendent Cheri Towle said administrators and staff members are working together to figure out one grading system.
“We’re trying to make it a one-scoring system that’s easily understood by students and teachers,” she said
In the traditional credit system, Towle said, a student’s score could be based on multiple factors aside from academic mastery, including behavior and participation. The 0-4 system under proficiency-based education, she said, makes clear what a student has to know to achieve a score of either 1, 2, 3 or 4. While adhering to the 0-4 scale is not necessary, she said, teachers and administrators are deciding how to assign standards to whatever system they end up adopting.
“They could be on a 0-100 score, but the teachers at the high school need to agree that when they give an 85, that that 85 represents a certain level of knowledge,” she said.
The school department will pilot the new grading system with freshmen and sophomores next school year, while juniors and seniors will stick to the traditional 0-100 credit system.
The Brewer transcript will also ultimately include endorsements showing students’ progress toward mastery of the state’s eight academic subject areas.