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Who isn’t in favor of high standards?
The recent three-part series on proficiency-based learning in Maine by The Hechinger Report’s Lillian Mongeau (which appeared in both The Report and the Portland Press Herald) is very informative on this topic. However, to make it necessary for a student to achieve “proficiency,” (defined as 80 percent or a grad of B or better) on eight high school exit exams in order to earn a diploma seems like an idea fraught with problems.
I’m sure a majority of our students can accomplish this, but my fear is for the students who cannot.
Let’s look at why this law was proposed: Then-Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, who helped usher in proficiency-based diplomas, said that flat test scores were the reason for this regulation.
What that means is he wanted to help more students pass standardized tests.
It seems to me that these are the very children who will be harmed by this law.
As a Response to Intervention teacher working with struggling readers in Maine, I can tell you that there is always a percentage of students who work hard but cannot obtain above a “C” in all subjects.
If the aim of the proponents is to help these students, how is raising the bar going to help?
Wouldn’t a focus on proven ways to work with these students help more than a paradigm shift for all education in Maine?
Another problem is consistency. A stated reason is always that this will ensure that an A in northern Maine is the same as an A in southern Maine. However, as every district is creating its own assessments, this alone calls the law’s existence into question.
It also seems that it could increase the dropout rate, as students couldn’t see any end to retaking courses. I don’t think raising the number of young people with no job prospects because they have no diploma was what Stephen Bowen had in mind.
So why has Maine jumped in as the first state to mandate this ill-defined “experiment”?
Who is guiding these decisions?
What educators are being included?
It seems as if we should take a step back and provide the professional development needed to implement this idea so that all Maine’s children will benefit.
Creating high standards is always a good idea. Creating more young people with no “ticket to the future – a diploma” is not.
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.
Kathleen Mikulka is a Response to Intervention teacher in Maine. She previously taught in Upstate New York, and received degrees in teaching and the teaching of reading from SUNY Albany. A version of this Op Ed appeared in the Portland Press Herald as a letter to the editor.
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