Maine is forging ahead of most states in adopting proficiency-based education.

But it is not alone.

All of the New England states except Massachusetts have formed the New England Secondary Schools Consortium, which promotes the education reform.

“In their own way, each of the five states has committed to personalized, standards-based learning,” said Mark Kostin, the Maine liaison for the consortium.

New Hampshire eliminated requirements on how much time students must spend in school in 2005 and gave districts until the 2008-09 school year to adopt a competency-based system for awarding credits. Individual school districts had the responsibility of identify competencies, or subjects, choose assessment methods and define how a student would show that he or she had mastered the subject.

In the Vermont Legislature, a bill requiring a standards-based assessment for high school graduation stalled in committee last year but will be reintroduced, Kostin said. The Vermont Department of Education also awarded grants to six high schools this year to develop models for proficiency-based diplomas and flexible learning programs.

Rhode Island is focusing on personalizing education and has implemented proficiency-based graduation requirements, including an exhibition and a portfolio of work.

In November, the Connecticut Association of Public Schools Superintendents recommended a package of reforms to create a “learner-centered” education system, including promoting students based on skills rather than age or seat time.

Outside New England, Oregon is enacting a statewide performance-based assessment, and several high schools there are using a proficiency-based approach similar to the model catching on in Maine.

The Re-Inventing Schools Coalition had its birth in the Chugach School District in rural Alaska, where administrators developed their model in the 1990s.

Adams 50, a school district of 10,000 students outside Denver, worked with the coalition and has replaced kindergarten through grade 12 with 10 assessment levels not determined by age.

The coalition also is working with Lindsay Unified School District, where RSU 2’s new superintendent, Virgel Hammonds, helped lead the transition to a proficiency-based system while principal of the high school.

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said that among his counterparts in other states, consideration of proficiency-based education is being crowded out by other concerns, such as getting waivers to No Child Left Behind’s strictest requirements.

He’s not sure why Maine ended up in the lead, though it may have something to do with local control of school districts, which New Hampshire and Vermont also have.

“It’s not so much anything that we’re doing as a department,” Bowen said. “It’s these districts talking on their own and getting these wheels turning and getting other districts interested. The thing has started to roll downhill a little on us, which is great.”

Once all of Maine is on board with proficiency-based education, Bowen hopes the federal government will take heed.

“If we’re working on it and we’re working with other states on it, sooner or later we’re going to get some attention,” he said. “We can say, ‘Look, this is the direction we’re going in,’ and be able to influence policy at a national level.”


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