Students Weigh Proficiency Law's Effect

Apr 29, 2017

Starting in 2020, a new Maine law will require that all graduating students meet minimum levels of proficiency in their subject areas in order to receive a diploma.

This new directive will make proficiency-based learning the new normal rather than the current grading system. With the new law in place for the upcoming academic year, students will be evaluated on their performance in meeting learning targets.

As the Maine Department of Education website states, these learning targets and the subsequent proficiency-based diploma will ensure that students graduate “with a diploma that signifies they are leaving high school with the knowledge and skills needed for college and career success.”

Perhaps caused by the lack of visibility to students, what is interesting about this new initiative is the lack of student opinions. With teachers, adults, and the Maine DOE having plenty of mediums for their thoughts, students have been mostly mute on this important change. Three Waterville Senior High School sophomores, Leah Shoulta, Conrad Ayers, and Lauren Smith, all among one of the last classes to be graded based on the traditional average-based system, spoke about the new initiative.

Conrad agrees that the few changes teachers are making now to prepare for next year are not visible. Like most students, he hadn’t heard of the the new proficiency-based diplomas for the incoming freshmen. Citing real world applications, like having a job that requires accuracy, Conrad said, “It is more like real life to be graded on proficiency rather than effort, and high school's main goal is to prepare students for the real world.”

Right now, students, parents, and administrators rely on averages to determine the pupils’ knowledge in a particular subject. A student could have a great average and pass classes, but did they really meet state standards?

Although Lauren and Leah won't have to meet the requirements of the proficiency-based graduation law, they were concerned that their grades could change in this system. Leah said, “To me I do not think this [proficiency learning] is necessary.” Interestingly enough, Leah, taking a second to think, said “I do not think the average I have in a class can determine whether or not I meet the standard.” Lauren also thinks “this will make a decrease in many people's grades” but said “With the new performance grading system, students will learn and understand information more accurately.”

In a similar way to what the Common Core curriculum strives to do, by students across Maine meeting the same standards, Conrad thinks “That it would level the playing field between high schools if they all had kids learn the same exact thing. It would also be easier for colleges and the government to see how students from different schools compared to each other.”

Schools will soon begin to alter their curriculum to make it compatible with the new proficiency-based diploma directive. Although students are relatively quiet now, this law begins to take effect in just a handful of months. While results are likely years away, one thing is for sure - Maine students will soon be subject to an entirely new grading system.

Gabriel Ferris is a student at Waterville Senior High School.