UMPI launches proficiency-based education initiative

BANGOR—The University of Maine at Presque Isle was joined by several top Maine education officials during a Feb. 13 press conference in Bangor to announce its transition to proficiency-based education, a move that makes UMPI the first university in Maine and one of the first in the nation to deliver this type of interactive learning. Proficiency-based education encourages deeper learning and greater engagement by providing more hands-on activities, giving students choices in selecting assignments, and having them demonstrate proficiency in a subject area before moving along to the next concept.

During the press event, the University also unveiled its new vision and announced a $200,000 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation to help achieve that vision and establish its groundbreaking learning initiative. Acting Maine Commissioner of Education Jim Rier, University of Maine System Chancellor James Page, Educate Maine board member Yellow Light Breen and Great Schools Partnership Senior Policy Advisor Duke Albanese were on hand to help in announcing the news.

“We believe that students should own their learning, receive an education personalized to their needs, focus on building competencies instead of accumulating seat-time, and get thorough career preparation at all stages of their time in college,” UMPI President Linda Schott said. “That is what proficiency-based education as delivered by UMPI looks like and we are extremely pleased to be at the national forefront in transforming the educational experience on our campus in this way.”

UMPI’s new vision states that it will “design a personalized, technologically innovative education with every student and prepare each graduate to pursue a career, make global contributions, and engage in lifelong learning.” To achieve its new vision, the University is incorporating proficiency-based education into all aspects of the campus experience. The two-year, $197,946 grant UMPI was awarded by the Davis Educational Foundation, titled Embracing Proficiency-Based Education at UMPI, will assist the campus in providing in-depth faculty and staff training and development as it implements its new vision.

Proficiency-based education is top of mind for public schools in Maine. State legislation requires all Maine high schools to graduate students based on a proficiency-based diploma by 2018. UMPI’s efforts ensure that students who have been taught under, and acclimated to, proficiency-based learning in high school, will have the opportunity to continue learning in the same way once they graduate and head to college.

“Maine has been a national leader in prioritizing proficiency in K-12 classrooms, especially with our recent commitment to awarding proficiency-based diplomas from all of our state’s high schools by 2018. UMPI’s leadership in also adopting this approach solidifies Maine’s reputation as the state of education innovation and, more importantly, ensures a seamless transition from the K-12 system to higher education that will better serve our students, and our state,” said Acting Education Commissioner Rier. “What’s especially exciting from the Maine Department of Education’s perspective is that the university’s action reinforces that post-secondary institutions welcome graduates of proficiency-based systems, knowing those students will be ready for the rigor of college studies. Doing so voluntarily sends a strong message to the K-12 community that proficiency-based is the new normal in Maine education—not just because it is required by State statute, but because it is the right thing to do for students.”

The proficiency-based learning approach, as offered at UMPI, focuses on solving real-world problems, conducting original research, getting hands-on experience in students’ chosen fields, and achieving competencies—learning specific 21st century skills that employers are seeking, such as collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. It’s important to note that while UMPI’s proficiency-based learning approach includes elements of competency-based education, it is not exclusively focused on the degree-completion competency-based model, which some not-for-profit private institutions are using and which is receiving significant attention in higher education right now.

UMPI’s proficiency-based curriculum will allow students choice both in how they learn and how they demonstrate that learning, emphasize the development of problem-posing skills in real-world situations, and ensure that faculty provide outstanding instruction, formative assessment, and appropriate and early intervention to guarantee the success of all learners.

As part of the University’s focus on career preparation, students will begin preparing for employment on the first day they arrive on campus. During their first year, they will learn how to write resumes and cover letters. Employers and other community volunteers will critique their work, conduct mock interviews, and serve as mentors and advisors. Throughout their time in college, students will have opportunities to gain experience in the workplace through service learning and internships. In addition, UMPI alumni will help students network and find careers. To showcase their hard work, students will graduate with a portfolio of skills and documented proficiencies that will help them stand out with future employers.

UMPI will spend Spring 2014 focused on planning and training and then, in Fall 2014, will begin offering its proficiency-based learning approach to a core group of incoming freshmen who have been identified as Innovative Learners. They will be paired with and taught by Innovative Teaching Fellows—UMPI faculty members who have received specialized training in proficiency-based education. The funding from the Davis Educational Foundation will ensure a smooth transition as the University implements major changes to its curriculum and student and academic affairs operations. In giving the award, Davis Educational Foundation officials noted that UMPI’s project was “supported by clear and consistent leadership and builds off of a platform of learning outcomes work already begun by faculty.” The Davis Educational Foundation was established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc.

As this initiative moves forward at UMPI, education officials throughout Maine and the U.S. will be looking to UMPI and others that are working to implement proficiency-based education for answers, results, and a way forward.

“President Schott and the faculty at UMPI are leading the way for collegiate institutions across Maine, New England, and the nation as they move the campus to a student-centered approach to teaching and learning,” said J. Duke Albanese, Senior Policy Advisor for the Great Schools Partnership and former Maine Commissioner of Education. “Relevance, student interest, and applied learning opportunities like projects and internships will shape the curriculum across disciplines and majors as students work to demonstrate their proficiency. Clearly, UMPI recognizes the changing face of high schools as proficiency-based learning and graduation practices are implemented. High school graduates from Maine and other states will find UMPI’s approach to be attractive and challenging, a natural transition to a college experience that emphasizes the demonstration of proficiency and competency, while honoring student interest.”

For more information about UMPI’s proficiency-based learning efforts, visit or call 207-768-9532.

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