Leading Learning After PBD

40 Districts Share Their Status

The topic of MCLA’s September 2018 regional member meetings was Leading Learning in the Aftermath of PBD Repeal. Members from 40 districts described the status of local diplomas and proficiency-based education. Eight are continuing their work with no changes in either diploma requirements or proficiency-based practices. Five are experiencing significant parent opposition to local continuation. These vocal parents equate proficiency with standards-based grading and often refer to proficiency-based education as a “failed experiment” with no evidence that it works. Two of the six districts reported personal attacks on district administrators, continued Freedom of Information Act requests, and resistance to participating in small group or one-on-one discussions about proficiency. One is hearing from high school teachers as well.

Changes in grading and reporting

Parental concerns about 1 to 4 grading systems led many districts to revise grading and reporting during the summer. Most districts accept the grading changes. “I’m not willing to die on that particular hill,” one curriculum leaders said in September. A variety of dual systems are in place or being finalized:

  • Returning to the 0 – 100 numeric system (in some districts, 50 – 100) with 1 to 4 standards-based proficiency scales in the classroom.
  • Awarding credits based on proficiency of standards in each content area.
  • Continuing to report work habits, homework, and behavior on a 1-4 scale and excluding formative assessment in reporting academic grades on 0 to 100 point scale.
  • Maintaining fully implemented proficiency-based grading and reporting in K-6 or K-8, while reporting high school letter and numeric grades based on each student’s body of evidence of standards proficiency.

Time to breathe

The proficiency-based diploma statute required all students to demonstrate proficiency in eight content areas and seven overarching guiding principles. The Maine Department of Education allowed districts to choose or create their own diploma standards in each content area and to define their own guiding principles. In practice, each district’s diploma standards were always a local decision and varied considerably from one district to another. The law led to a number of positive local impacts, including increased teacher collaboration, more district-wide clarity about student-centered practices, and increased focus on providing all students with the foundational skills and understandings common to both college and career readiness. But it also generated implementation and ethical questions and concerns about student equity and opportunity to learn. “The statute forced us to limit multiple pathways for students and foreclose options available to them.”

Repeal is an opportunity for many to revisit previous diploma requirements and to emphasize effective instruction in a student-centered system:

  • “We’re staying the course with classroom practice, asking ourselves ‘what does it mean to be student-centered?’”.
  • “We’re staying focused on power standards.” “We’ve got time to revisit the curriculum.”
  • “We’ve got time to analyze without rushing to meet the requirements. We’ve got time to breathe.”
  • “Repeal changed the conversation from how do we meet this deadline? to what do we have to do to meet kids where they are?”
  • “We can focus on quality, not quantity now. We’re still working on common definitions and understandings.”
  • “We think we’re at a tipping point in truly becoming proficiency-based. We’re preparing learners to be learners and won’t stop doing that.”
  • “Our board is very supportive and wants to focus on community partnerships and the Guiding Principles [which have also been repealed].”
  • “We’re finally able to focus on PBE and use an adapted version of MCLA’s four core PBE components as our framework for effective teaching and learning.”

The actual impact of LD 1666

Members also explored this question: “What does repeal really mean operationally?” The most accurate answer is that there will be no impact during this school year. State policy decisions about proficiency will continue. Here’s why:

LD 1666, the bill enacted this summer, made proficiency-based diplomas a local decision. The bill retained the original requirements if districts choose to award proficiency-based diplomas. LD 1666 also required the Department of Education to develop major substantive rules to govern local use of proficiency-based diplomas. The bill effectively defines proficiency-based diplomas as those that meet all of the previous requirements using the means and methods the department will define in the new rules. The department is also obligated, during the 2018-19 school year, “to implement a school accountability system to measure school performance and student proficiency in facilitating students’ achieving the knowledge and skills described in the parameters for essential instruction and graduation requirements”. (See our July 2018 analysis of the post-LD 1666 diploma requirements.)

Major substantive rule making follows a specific process which includes a public comment period and approval by the legislature. The fastest completion of this process is the end of the next legislative session in the spring or summer of 2019. However, in its September 25, 2018 update, the department states: “districts should move forward with diploma requirements that serve students with an understanding that further legislation is likely necessary to reduce the inconsistencies between the two options.”

We expect the next legislative session to be at least as uncertain about standards and proficiency as the last one.

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