AUGUSTA — Maine’s high school graduation requirements would be overhauled under a bill endorsed Tuesday by a legislative committee.

The bill, which would first affect students graduating from high school in 2017, says students no longer would earn credits for time spent in school. Instead, they would have to demonstrate proficiency in every skill and topic in the eight content areas and five guiding principles of the Maine Learning Results.

Schools that adopt the new approach — usually called proficiency-based or standards-based education — could eliminate age-based grade levels and promote students based entirely on their mastery of the standards.

Thirty-five school districts and high schools in Maine are already on the path toward such a system, said Maine Superintendent of Instruction Donald Siviski.

The bill, L.D. 1422, was reported out of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Tuesday with a unanimous, 11-0 “ought to pass” recommendation.

Securing passage of the legislation is a top priority in the Department of Education’s strategic plan, which was unveiled last week and calls for Maine’s public schools eventually to adopt a standards-based education model.

“We’re talking about outcomes being the constant and time being the variable, and now we’re talking about putting a deadline on it,” Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said Tuesday.

Representatives of Maine’s professional educator organizations told the education committee that most of their members support standards-based education in theory, but they worry about schools having the resources to change curriculum and train staff in personalizing education for every student.

“We all know this is where we need to be,” said Dick Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals Association, “but we’re still concerned about getting to the point where we can meet all eight content areas in terms of staff and capacity.”

The professional organizations’ representatives and some legislators also said they want to avoid repeating the mistakes of previous educational mandates, including the 2007 school consolidation law.

Maine Education Association President Chris Galgay said the bill reminds him of the Maine Learning Results law, which was passed in 1997 with the goal of moving all schools toward a diploma system similar to what’s proposed now.

“But now what I hear in this building all the time is, ‘There are no resources,'” Galgay said. “The difference between now and then is, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re going to have to do this on your own.'”

The Maine Learning Results law required school districts to develop their own research-backed assessments to determine whether students were meeting educational standards. No school in the state has reached that goal, according to the education department.

Many school districts, particularly smaller ones in rural communities, found themselves without the staff or knowledge to develop the local assessments, officials said. Gov. John Baldacci enacted a moratorium on the requirement in 2006.

The deadline of 2017 proposed in the new bill would affect this year’s seventh-graders, and high schools would need to have curriculum, new transcripts, technology and staff training in place by the time those students enter high school in 2013.

Legislators said they understand that school districts have different resources and that most are stretched thin right now.

To accommodate schools that can’t meet the deadline, the education committee adopted a waiver provision. Initially, the waiver was unlimited; but the bill, as approved by the committee, says districts could obtain waivers only until 2020.

The bill does not specify, however, what happens if a school district fails to meet either deadline.

Although the bill does not include any funding for school districts to implement the new diploma system, the Department of Education hopes to help districts in other ways.

Bowen said he will ask the Legislature to supply money for the Fund for Efficient Delivery of Educational Services, which assists regional professional development centers.

The department also is preparing a website for educators to share resources such as curriculum standards, syllabuses and example policies.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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