Category Archives: From the Commissioner

Spreading the facts about Ebola

Last week, some Maine educators traveled to Dallas, Texas to participate in an assessment conference. Given the national attention currently on that city because of the three confirmed cases of Ebola there, some have raised concerns in the districts these educators are returning to.

Continue reading

Reminder to superintendents surveys due

The following reminder was sent via Priority Notice to all Maine superintendents on Friday, Oct. 17.

Dear Superintendents,

I am writing to remind you to please complete two surveys that will greatly inform the work of the Commission to Strengthen the Adequacy and Equity of Certain Cost Components of the School Funding Formula, established by the Maine Legislature earlier this year.

In partnership with the Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI), the Department is compiling information for the Commission about the current use of instructional coaches and the physical space, facility capacity and operations of districts as it relates to existing and expanding preschool programs. Because the Commission begins meeting this coming Monday, I encourage you to submit your responses today, though surveys completed after this deadline will be provided to the Commission for consideration at its future meetings.  Continue reading

Learning through technology educators

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend two full days at the annual conference of the Association of Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM). To say I was impressed and inspired by what I experienced would be an understatement. Maine has long been looked to as a national leader when it comes to integrating technology in the classroom and the energy and expertise I saw in the hundreds of technology educators at the conference proved why. Continue reading

Celebrating Maine’s 2015 Teacher of the Year

Last week I had the honor of announcing Jennifer Dorman as the 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year.

Mrs. Dorman, who dreamed of being a teacher since her very first day of Kindergarten, has been a special educator in Somerset County schools for two decades, most recently at Skowhegan Area Middle School (SAMS) where she is a seventh-and eighth-grade special education and reading intervention teacher.

Continue reading

Superintendents surveyed on use of instructional coaches

The following Priority Notice requesting participation in a survey on the use of instructional coaches was distributed to all Maine superintendents on Wednesday, Oct. 8.

Dear Superintendents,

As you know, the Maine DOE is committed to ensuring that every learner has the opportunity to be successful. Part of that is ensuring our schools have the resources they need to best support all of their students, including those who are economically disadvantaged.   Continue reading

All students, all standards but different demonstrations of proficiency

As Maine moves toward a proficiency-based education system that will ensure students graduate from our high schools having mastered State learning standards, I am often asked what this expectation means for our nearly 30,000 students with disabilities.

A free appropriate public education must include support to allow students with disabilities to achieve the same high standards as other students.

I – like all of my colleagues at the Department and so many of you – believe that Maine students with disabilities deserve to graduate knowing that they have the knowledge and skills needed for future success. And I am confident that they can, even if their path toward proficiency sometimes looks different than that of their classmates. After all, in the true learner-centered system envisioned in Maine’s Education Evolving strategic plan, all students are active participants in and directors of their own learning, taking a meaningful role in planning learning activities and being allowed to choose the manner by which they display proficiency, whether it be a final exam, paper, project or other demonstration.

Maine law states that a diploma may be awarded to a child with a disability if that child achieves proficiency in the same standards as required of other children “as specified by the goals and objectives of the child’s individualized education plan.” The Department has always interpreted that language to mean that an IEP team may modify the means by which a student with a disability demonstrates proficiency in the standards and reflect that on the student’s IEP but they may not modify the standards themselves, which are codified in Department rule.

The federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) and the U.S. Department of Education recently affirmed that, issuing a letter to the State of Louisiana in which they expressed significant concern about that state’s recently enacted law permitting IEP teams to change and lower the expectations for students with disabilities. The position set forth in their letter supports our Department’s own: to qualify for a diploma a student with disabilities must meet the same level of proficiency in the same standards as students without disabilities; however, the manner in which they demonstrate their eligibility for a diploma may differ.

Our Department means it when we say “all standards, all students.” And we are backing up that commitment by providing resources to support your local efforts including free coaching and tools.

For more information or technical assistance in supporting all students, please contact Maine DOE’s Director of Special Services Jan Breton at janice.breton@maine.gov or 624-6713. For more information about the proficiency-based diploma requirement and related resources, visit Getting to Proficiency: Graduating Every Student Prepared.

Showing up to promote school attendance

It’s been said that the first step to success is showing up and nowhere is that more true than in our schools.

Chronic absenteeism – defined as missing 10 percent of the school year (18 days here in Maine) – increases achievement gaps and decreases student outcomes. Absences add up quickly. In fact, students who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are much less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade and are more likely to have poor attendance in later grades. By middle and high school, chronic absence is a proven early warning sign that a student will not graduate on time or even at all. Chronic absenteeism especially hurts children with disabilities or from low income families who are both more likely to miss school and who often lack the resources to make up for lost time in the classroom.

Continue reading

Transparent, inclusive process will improve Maine’s standards

Earlier this week, a 24-person panel came together in Augusta to begin reviewing the state’s math and English language arts standards.

The panel’s membership – which includes parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, college professors and business leaders – is diverse, as are their perspectives. Over the next six weeks, they’ll assess the rigor and clarity of each standard and make suggestions where improvement is needed.

I personally asked them to participate in this critical process because learning standards underlie much of our work in the coming years to transform education in Maine, from the awarding of proficiency-based diplomas to the implementation of educator evaluations and next generation assessment systems. If changes are needed, the time to make them is now. Continue reading

Proficiency standard applies to special education students

The following Priority Notice was sent to Maine Superintendents and Directors of Special Education by Commissioner Jim Rier and Maine DOE Director of Special Services on Sept. 17.

Dear Superintendents and Directors of Special Education,

As Maine moves towards a proficiency-based system that will ensure that all students graduate from our high schools having met rigorous learning standards, some have asked about the impact of this new expectation on students with disabilities.  Continue reading

Maine honored for service to military students

Following the horrific attacks of Sept. 11 now 13 years ago, many Mainers stepped up to serve our country and the cause of freedom around the world. Their children are unsung heroes who face frequent moves, the absence of a beloved mom and/or dad during long deployments and daily uncertainty.

Continue reading