School ‘proficiency’ deadline eased in Kittery

DELAYEDBy Deborah McDermott
September 03, 2014 2:00 AM

KITTERY, Maine — The School Committee voted recently to give the School Department until 2020 to fully implement the state’s new proficiency-based learning standards.

Although this year’s freshman class at Traip Academy is being taught under the new system, Superintendent Allyn Hutton said the administration needs additional time to fully implement the system.

Under the proficiency-based standards, students will no longer be “taught to the middle,” where they will get a C grade if they understand part of the coursework but don’t understand other parts. The new system requires teachers to break down each course into various competencies, and a student will not pass the course until he or she demonstrates an understanding of each competency.

The areas include math, English, science and technology, social studies, visual and performing arts, world languages, health and physical education, and career and education development.

“Right now, parents think they understand if their child comes home with two As and three Bs, they think their child is doing well, but they really don’t know what the child knows and doesn’t know,” she said. “The new reporting system will allow parents and students to get underneath that.”

The state of Maine had initially required all students graduating in 2018 to be taught under this method, but has given school districts an extra two years if needed to fully implement the program.

By 2020, the expectation is that the system will be in place to begin teaching proficiency-based education in kindergarten through Grade 12.

School Committee members at a recent meeting asked many questions as they tried to grapple with what it will mean for students. For instance, while freshmen classes are being taught under the new method, students in multiple-grade classes such as music or students taking sophomore-level classes are still being taught under the old method.

Patti Ayer said she understood administrators are just now grappling with the full implications of the state’s plan, which was not released to school districts until the end of July. But she said it is important for “benchmarks” to be set and deadlines to be met “or we’re going to have a lot of churn. I’m concerned the train is going to go off the rails if we’re not very careful.”

“How can teachers push student A at his pace and student B at her pace? It seems impossible,” said Bob Wiles.

“It’s not impossible,” said Traip Principal Eric Waddell. “Special education teachers have been doing this for a long time. Teachers have to get away from, ‘This is what I’m teaching. If it works for you, great; if it doesn’t, that’s too bad.’ They have to think about this differently.”

Kim Bedard said she is concerned gifted and talented students could be left behind.

Julie Dow said she thought the system would work, “because it says to all kids, you can do this. It’s also important to remember that mistakes are going to happen, but we can’t push the panic button. It’s great that the freshmen teachers are doing this. It’s a really big leap.”