Moving to a learner-centered system

Author icon: Head shot of Commissioner Stephen Bowen

It’s been a busy and exciting month for us as we advance our efforts to move Maine to an education system that is centered around students.

Feedback has started to come in about our newly released strategic plan, “Education Evolving: Maine’s Plan for Putting Learners First.” We appreciate the constructive suggestions and comments from those who have taken time to read the document, and we actively encourage more feedback.

Check out the plan and join the discussion on our website.

As the feedback trickles in, some of the initiatives outlined in the document are already moving ahead.

On Tuesday, the Legislature’s Education Committee took an important — and unanimous — vote in favor of implementing a proficiency-based high school diploma, which will require that students demonstrate they’ve mastered course materials, rather than spent a specified amount of time studying each subject.

A proficiency-based diploma is an important step toward realizing the learner-centered education system we’ve articulated in our strategic plan, and it’s something we’ve been working toward since 1997, when Maine introduced the Learning Results standards. A proficiency-based diploma values the learning that happens rather than the time spent doing it. A proficiency-based diploma also recognizes that every student is different, every child learns differently, and they all learn at different speeds.

Also on Tuesday, Gov. LePage devoted time in his State of the State address to address the objectives of our strategic plan, asking legislators to “keep one question in mind: What is best for the student?”

Gov. LePage went on to discuss a few key initiatives highlighted in our plan. He talked about expanding student access to career and technical education — promoting it as an option for all students, and removing the adult-imposed barriers (like funding, transportation and scheduling hurdles) to accessing what is often the best choice for many of our learners.

The Governor talked about maximizing the effectiveness of our teachers and school leaders so Maine students continue to have access to some of the best educators around. We plan to do this by working with our teacher preparation programs and educators to: attract the best candidates to the profession; provide them with the training and support they need; set rigorous, yet realistic, performance standards for our educators; give them mentors in the early years; and craft evaluation systems that are fair, constructive and encourage continued professional growth.

The Governor also discussed allowing families – rather than their street addresses – more of a say in determining where students attend school.

In the coming days, weeks and months, the Department will continue to make important progress on a number of initiatives integral to the work outlined in the strategic plan — work that’s integral to designing an education system around the needs of the learner.

While the strategic plan is a working document that could change in response to your feedback, we at the Department are taking advantage of having a document that brings some focus to our work.

11 thoughts on “Moving to a learner-centered system

  1. Does this mean we are moving away from grading students as we do now (by numbers and/or letter grades)? I don’t see in any of the information that has been made available where grading has been discussed. Is this a sort of pass or fail grading?

  2. Hank, thank you for the great question. Once again, I asked Don Siviski about this. We don’t want individual districts to have to reinvent the wheel and develop their own data systems and measures of proficiency. That’s why our strategic plan makes numerous references to developing an online platform that supports collaboration among educators in the field and here at Maine DOE to develop and share all types of resources that would be helpful to school districts as they implement proficiency-based systems.

    Already, we have a growing number of districts in Maine that have taken major steps in the proficiency-based direction and have developed resources that would be useful to other districts as they start down the same path.

    As for software that tracks student progress toward meeting the standards, we plan to share the decisions local districts have made with regard to the systems they use to track every child’s progress toward meeting the learning standards.

  3. Sharon, thanks for your comment. I asked Don Siviski, Maine DOE’s superintendent of instruction, about this, and got the following in response: Local districts will determine multiple paths for students to demonstrate proficiency. Some districts are sharing that responsibility with students, giving students “voice and choice” in determining how they meet a particular standard. In the end, professional, licensed teachers determine if a students meets a standard. And as is current practice, local school boards will continue to approve curriculum.

  4. Hi Lew. Thanks for your comment. I posed your question to Don Siviski, superintendent of instruction here at the DOE, and got the following response: The IEP will determine the expected proficiency of disabled learners, same as with current practice.

  5. Supporting Sharon’s question, each of our school districts or the state itself will need a significantly different data system than is currently available to keep track of student performances that demonstrate proficiency. What is the thinking on this need? For local districts that are ready to move in this direction, are we expected to build our own system or will the state take the lead? This is an essential component of proficiency based diplomas.

  6. Career & Technical Education(CTE) is the bridge to connect academic standards, industry standards and the desperate cry from employers for skilled, technically savvy employees. Learning in a Standards-based environment to me means a laser like focus on the contextual application of content and process, while students and their families can identify the interests and experiences they’ve had to make the learning real and relevant. I would add to the commissioner’s observation that location, as well as time need to be the variables, while learning is the constant.
    As educators I believe our challenge is to understand we are an important part of a system that provides the foundation for every citizen. After a formal education, regardless of its duration, people go to work. We need to ensure that students at all levels gain insight into their own abilities, develop their own passions, and are able to enjoy an educational experience that honors and supports their abilities and interests.
    The system should be driven by student needs. We currently have just the opposite.

  7. Thank you for shifting the focus from administrative structures to student centered structures. I have read the Commissioner’s Plan, the text INEVITABLE, and several other pieces all of which are research based, and I believe you are right on target. As a teacher, a parent, and a school board member, it is my opinion that THE MAINE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION has become a real department of education.


  8. I too agree with individual learning plans and proficiency diplomas. I am very interested in the assessment methods. How will proficiencies be measured and curriculum adapted?

  9. Hi- I fully support the move away from a traditional credit-based approach to a proficiency diploma model but wonder how all of our students with moderate-severe disabilities fit in? They were left out of the discussion several years ago when Maine proposed a similar diploma model.

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