AUGUSTA — Maine is joining seven other states that will offer high school students a chance to graduate after their sophomore or junior years.
“Once students have mastered certain academic areas and have demonstrated they get it, they can move on,” said David Connerty-Marin of the Maine Department of Education. “I don't think we're going to have gobs of students heading off to college at 16. We'll have some.”
According to the National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington, D.C., the eight states will be using “the world's best instructional systems and examinations,” similar to what's used in Denmark, England, France, Ireland and Singapore.
Other states joining Maine in the performance-based diploma are New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Kentucky, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.
A year from this fall, Maine high schools will volunteer to be part of the center's program. Students can sign up for a performance-based diploma, rather than a diploma based on accumulating credits.
The thinking behind the new diploma is that it would make high school more relevant for students “and put them in the driver's seat of their education,” Connerty-Marin said.
According to the center, the new diploma would encourage more students to go to college, allow some to move through high school quicker and reduce the need for remedial courses at colleges and universities.
“When students are in charge of their own learning, they're much more engaged," Connerty-Marin said. "When you say to them, 'Here's what you need to know; there are different ways you can get that.' When students figure out what they need and how to get it, they become the drivers of their own education,” Connerty-Marin said. “Kids like that.”
Some exams will be built into courses, he said. Students would also take exams at the end of the 10th grade. If they pass, they can get a high school diploma and a chance to enroll the next fall at any two- or four-year open admissions college in the state.
Central Maine Community College Dean of Planning Roger Philippon said Wednesday he hadn't heard much about the proposal, but he believes it is important for the state to try models of secondary education that seem to produce results in other countries.
One of the goals he likes is increasing the number of high school graduates ready for college, which would allow the Auburn college to offer fewer remedial classes.
A good number of students show up needing help in reading, writing and math, Philippon said. “Most have been out of school for a while, but there are some who have recently graduated from high school."
He predicted that a diploma that allows students to graduate at age 16 wouldn't necessarily mean they would start college at that age. “But there are more than a few who are ready to start college work by the time they're juniors and seniors,” as evidenced by the Early College program, in which high school students take college courses while in high school, he said.
Many of the logistics, including the start-up costs, have not been worked out, Connerty-Marin said. The center is applying for additional funding from the Gates Foundation and Maine will apply for federal grants.
Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron will meet with superintendents to explain the goals and encourage high schools to participate.