School officials address standards-based proficiency

By Dwight Collins | May 14, 2014
Photo by: Dwight Collins Steve Bowen, former commissioner of education and current strategic initiative director of the Innovation Council of Chief State School officers spoke to a crowd largely made up of educators on what is being done, not only locally but nationally, in the arena of education reform May 6.

Rockport — Officials in the Five Town Community School District and Maine School Administrative District 28 hosted the first of several public hearings May 6 on moving the districts toward standards-based learning and proficiency diplomas.

Steve Bowen, former commissioner of education and current strategic initiative director of the Innovation Council of Chief State School Officers, spoke to a crowd largely made up of educators on what is being done, not only locally but nationally, in the arena of education reform.

Bowen said working with Maine, Illinois and seven other states on what is required for standards-based education is groundbreaking and those states are blazing the way to be able to inform other states on what works and what does not.

“One of the first things we have taken a look at is 'what are we trying to do?' as it comes to standard-based education,” Bowen said. “We need to get [students] the skills, knowledge and competency to get them what they need to know to do what they are going to do in life.”

Bowen said kids are different kinds learners today than they were years ago. Access to massive amounts of information via the Internet is commonplace and as a whole, the student population worldwide is used to being able to find information instantly, he said.

He shared an example of his daughter, who exhausted all of the ideas in a bracelet-making kit and used YouTube as an opportunity to expand her knowledge.

Bowen said he went to check on his daughter because he "heard something no father wants to hear" coming from his daughters room – a strange male voice. He said he went in and found she was watching a video on how to make more bracelets. He said she then made a video of her own to teach others what she had learned.

The standards-based model is based on L.D. 1422, adopted by the Maine Department of Education in April 2011. The law states that to earn a diploma after Jan 1, 2017, a student must show proficiency in math, science, English and other areas set by local school boards. Schools can obtain a waiver from those requirements until 2020.

Proficiency-based education refers to any system of learning that is based on the student's demonstration of his or her complete understanding of a given topic prior to moving on to the next lesson, grade or even graduation.

As a whole, the goal of proficiency-based education is to make sure a graduating senior has gained the knowledge and skills that are pivotal to be a success in higher education, employment and in life. Although no student is exempt from learning the required material, there is an understanding that students learn at different rates and what takes one student four years to master might take another more time, Bowen said.

“We have got to meet the needs of all these kids and in this system people are saying it just can't do it,” Bowen said. “Its not a personal thing, this isn't a system anybody in this room built, but people are feeling like there has to be a better way to do this.”

Assistant Superintendent Maria Libby has been charged to lead research into standards-based education and said she feels a lot of work has been done locally to make sure the standards align with the curriculum being taught.

Libby said tests currently used do not give teachers enough information on which to base the student's level of understanding of any particular subject. Libby said because most of the tests are designed to test at the level of proficiency, teachers have no idea how much below or how much above a students understanding of the subject is.

Libby also stated an assessment has to be in test form but also includes papers and projects that have a rubric attached spelling out the different levels of proficiency and meeting the standards.

Five Town CSD, SAD 28 and School Union 69 have been working together on standards and have done a lot of work in making sure definitions for vocabulary are consistent and everyone is moving forward in the same direction, she said.

In the coming year, Libby said the committee on standards-based education will work on the different ways to assess a student's knowledge and set standards for each of the core areas of study.

Additional public meetings are planned on the topic as well.

Courier Publications reporter Dwight Collins can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at dcollins@villagesoup.com.

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Dwight Collins
Dwight Collins is a reporter/photographer for The Camden Herald.
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