Maine schools win Nellie Mae awards

An infusion of grant funds will allow Maine schools in Portland and Gray to move ahead with plans to allow students more choice in how they learn and more control over the speed at which they advance through school.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation has awarded Gray-based School Administrative District 15 and Portland’s Casco Bay High School $185,000 and $130,000 respectively to bankroll expansions of the proficiency-based systems they already have in place.

In SAD 15, which serves Gray and New Gloucester, the Nellie Mae grant will allow the district to begin phasing in the proficiency-based model at the high school level. The district has already taken steps to implement the model at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School.

The proficiency-based model, also known as the standards-based model, allows students more independence over how they learn and how fast they learn. As part of the model, students advance as soon as they master the skills they’re expected to master. Students who meet expectations sooner can move onto more advanced materials.

The Nellie Mae grant will pay for teacher training in the new model and development of rubrics, assessments and online resources teachers can use to implement the proficiency-based model.

Starting in the fall of 2012, Casco Bay High School will move toward eliminating credit requirements — which require that students study each subject for a set number of years — in favor of a proficiency-based system that requires that students become proficient in each subject area, rather than spend a designated amount of time studying each subject area.

As part of the transition, Casco Bay will keep close track of its transition to the new model, documenting successes and struggles that other schools can look to as they begin similar transitions. The project also involves developing tools that other schools can use to implement a proficiency-based model.

Casco Bay High School will collaborate with Expeditionary Learning, a nationwide network of schools that employ the expeditionary learning model.