A study of Maine’s initial efforts to redefine education standards in public schools has found confusion and a need for greater resources.
Researchers from the University of Southern Maine say the reforms have the potential to raise education standards across the state and help students achieve those new levels. Right now, 37 percent of high school students graduate without meeting current standards in reading and math.
Under the new system, which was created by a 2012 Maine law, public schools would ultimately graduate students based on their mastery of eight subject areas, not just their completion of core credits.
Schools receive less than 1 percent of their annual operating budget to fund the transition. In 2013, schools across Maine were given $2 million in transition money.
In a report released Wednesday, researchers found that the state needs to provide more guidance on how students are evaluated under the new system. The Maine Department of Education, however, contends that it simply oversees the transition and that the schools must decide how to conduct the assessments.
“I know there are some districts who wish the Department would just tell them exactly what to do and how to do it, but that’s simply not our role,” said Education Department spokeswoman Samantha Warren in an emailed statement.
She said the department is providing resources including online tools, case studies and workshops. The state is also working with administrators and a principal’s association to extend the deadline for compliance for some schools, she said.
One researcher commended the state for its efforts to raise education standards but said many teachers, administrators and parents remain unclear about how evaluations will be conducted under the proficiency guidelines — or how to define proficiency.
“The nuts and bolts of how to make it work in every classroom have not been laid out yet,” researcher Erika Stump said. “I think that a lot of the ideas being thrown out there require significant resources, substantial professional training, as well as straight-up funding.”
Overall, she said, schools are committed to making the transition, and the reform has created “extensive conversation” among educators.
The report found that many schools need more money for consultations with experts in education and technology to develop electronic systems used in tracking student progress and assessments.
“I definitely do not feel that it is funded to the level it needs to be funded,” said Ted Moccia, principal of Oxford Hills Regional High School.
Stump said poorer schools have fewer resources than others to transition to the proficiency system. As a result, it’s possible not all schools would use the same education benchmark, she said.
Poland Regional High School has used a proficiency system for 13 years. Principal Cari Medd said the initial barrier was finding information about proficiency education in Maine.
“It’s out there. It’s a question of accessing it,” she said.