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Understanding Proficiency Based Diplomas

Maine is one of the first states in the country to adopt a proficiency-based requirement for graduation.  While the requirement is centered around high school students, the entire K-8 system will need to adjust to the requirements as well in order for students to avoid a huge academic shift when transitioning into high school. The paradigm shift for all educators already has, according to the Department of Education, around two dozen districts asking for waiver extensions to meet the deadline requirements. As of September 2014, there was still a month left to apply for the waiver. For those districts working through the regulations educators are trying to figure out the answer to what, on the surface, seems like a simple question: what does proficient mean?

In implementing a new proficiency-based education system, districts will determine locally how to measure proficiency in each of the eight content areas of the Maine Learning Results. In addition, each district may include additional graduation requirements, like a capstone project or an application to a post-secondary school. With the definition of what is proficient potentially different in each district it is likely that what is considered “passable” in one school could be deemed “failing” in another.

The standards, “represent a sea change in the way education is provided for Maine children,” according to a report conducted by the Maine Policy Research Institute (MEPRI). The 62-page report, requested by the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, studied nine schools in the state and found moving to a proficiency-based system, “is proving very complex and difficult within existing structures of traditional public school teacher certifications, student achievement reporting, school grade configurations, daily scheduling, existing learning management technology, limited external or community supplemental resources, and current levels of personnel capacity.”

Take a closer look at the standards for graduation:

Students must meet the following eight standards in order to receive a diploma:

  1. Career and education development: Having the knowledge, skills and behaviors to interact with others, set goals and make career, college and citizenship decisions.
  2. English language arts: Students read stories, literature and complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be asked questions that push them to refer to what they’ve read to develop critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. English standards call for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects so students can read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively.
  3. Health education: Knowledge of basic health concepts, and the skills required to adopt and maintain healthy and safe behaviors.
  4. Math: Knowledge of algebra, functions, modeling and statistics and probability, with the ability to transform algebraic expressions, explain equations, verbal descriptions, tables and graphs or draw diagrams of important features.
  5. Science and technology: Learning based on themes of systems, models, constancy and change, and scale. Understand the universal nature of matter, energy, force and motion, and identify how the relationships are exhibited in earth systems, the solar system and the universe. Understand that cells are the basic unit of life, that all life has evolved through genetic transfer and natural selection to create a great diversity of organisms.
  6. Social studies: Knowledge of civics and government, economics, geography and history, including a balanced exposure to the major eras of United States and world history.
  7. Visual and performing arts: Meet proficiency in one or more of the visual and performing arts disciplines: dance, music, theater and visual arts.
  8. World languages: Students express their own thoughts and opinions about familiar topics and elicit the thoughts and opinions of others by using sentences and/or short paragraphs in at least one language other than English.

Students can Still Receive a Diploma if:

  • Student has a defined disability and meets IEP goals
  • Student meets the standards in a waiver request approved by the Commissioner of Education
  • Student completes freshman year at an accredited school of higher education
  • Student’s learning is interrupted due to things like homelessness or hospitalization, and a proficiency plan is approved by Commissioner of Education

Source: DOE


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