Extension options ensure proficiency-based diploma done right

There is perhaps no greater opportunity to ensure Maine students graduate college and career ready than the transition to proficiency-based diplomas now underway in our state.

That’s why our Department supported the 2012 law making it mandatory that schools award these diplomas starting in 2018 and why we have worked hard in the two years since to be a resource to districts as they make this significant shift. It is also why earlier this week, the Department previewed the options it was offering Maine school administrative units (SAUs) who need more time in meeting this requirement.

The decision to use the authority I have under a provision in Maine’s Basic School Approval Law to grant school units waivers from the proficiency-based diploma requirement through July 1, 2020 was not one I took lightly.

I am deeply troubled that the current gap between the percentage of students who graduate from high school and those who are proficient in math and reading is 38 percent, and that a third of Maine graduates who go onto college here need basic remedial courses. I believe Maine students deserve to graduate confident the diploma they’ve been awarded means they have the knowledge and skills needed for success in their next steps. I am committed to ensuring Maine SAUs continue to progress toward proficiency and that our Department is doing all we can within our authority and capacity to support those local efforts.

Yet I’ve been increasingly hearing from educators about the complexity of developing quality proficiency-based learning systems. Even districts that have eagerly pursued implementation and believe deeply in the value of these systems in strengthening teaching and learning admit they may not be ready in all eight content areas the law includes by 2018.

Our Department wanted to honor those concerns and not rush the thoughtful, systemic change that many SAUs have underway.

The six options that districts who need more time can choose from were developed with feedback from principals and superintendents based on where Maine schools actually are.  In an effort to ensure the extension process facilitates continuous progress toward proficiency, the broader a district’s request, the greater the work required of them and the amount of structured support that Maine DOE will provide.

It’s important to note we use the word “extension” rather than waiver because none of these paths remove the requirement in Maine law to making the important transition to awarding proficiency-based diplomas. Instead, they provide the time and support districts say they need.

I want to be clear that providing these structured extensions in no way moves Maine away from the spirit or the letter of the law that mandated proficiency-based diplomas, nor does it authorize any slowdown of the pace of implementation. In fact, I believe our flexibility does the exact opposite, ensuring that implementation is not comprised or given up on entirely.

Maine districts should be proud of their commitment to moving toward a learner-centered system that will better prepare our students for college and career. The work that has been done by many of them to date is impressive to us, invaluable to fellow district leaders and being looked to as a model nationally.

Our Department looks forward to continuing to support this transition, and to seeing the positive outcomes all this hard work produces for our students, and our state.