State looks at new high school diploma

LEWISTON — A proposal before state lawmakers would create a new high school diploma that could begin with the graduating class of 2017, Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said Wednesday.

Stephen Bowen

Current seventh-graders who graduate would receive a “proficiency-based” diploma.

“It isn't about credits and seat time,” Bowen told the Sun Journal editorial board Wednesday.

A proficiency-based diploma means students would graduate only after they've demonstrated that they know what they're supposed to know. Throughout their years in school, they'd only be moved ahead when they've proved that they've learned what they need to know.

The proposal was also outlined Wednesday to the Legislature's Education Committee.

To get a high school diploma in Maine now, “you need four years of this, three years of whatever, a certain number of credits,” Bowen said. “This would say, 'In order to get a diploma, students have to demonstrate they've mastered the learning results in eight content areas.'”

The Department of Education would have to build support over the next several years to help schools phase in new ways of teaching.

The state would share cutting-edge work that some school districts are doing, Bowen said.

When the new diploma would take effect, which Bowen said could be 2017, “is the debate,” he said. “When are we going to have the capacity to do that?”

Superintendents have told him districts are all over the place. “They're anxious about us putting a flag in the ground and saying the class that graduates in year X has to be ready,” he said.

That has to be balanced with the abandoned Learning Results plan adopted in 1997 that was to move away from seat time and give students diplomas when they had mastered subjects. If the new diploma begins in 2017, “that's 20 years after the Learning Results were implemented,” Bowen said.

A diploma should mean students understand critical concepts, “not that they sat in class and got a C," he said. "You got the credits, you walked out the door and you're not ready.”

Bowen said he hears from the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System and employers that too many high school graduates are not ready for college or employment.

For a lot of students, the school system is working well, but it's not working well for enough, he said.

Thirty to 40 percent of Maine students are scoring proficient and above, but the remaining students are in various stages, some of them struggling. “The community college tells us the majority of kids out of high school are not ready,” Bowen said.

Some struggled in the primary grades and never caught up, getting what he called a “Swiss cheese” education. He illustrated his point with a student in fifth-grade math. The student does well at decimals, but struggles with fractions. “He doesn't quite get it. But we've got to keep going because that's how we do it.” The student's scores are averaged. He gets a B in math. Teachers conclude he's fine. We move the kid on.”

But that student's lack of understanding of fractions is a hole in his education “that the system doesn't pick up. Years later, the student struggles in pre-algebra. The hole starts to get bigger,” Bowen said.

The focus ought to be on ensuring that students master what they need, not on putting them in the third grade because they're 8 or 9 years old, he said.

“What we're talking about is not taking down the existing system," Bowen said. "It's about creating different pathways, different approaches; creating a learning experience that's meaningful.”

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 's picture

While I agree with the concept.....

.... it will create a different standard. For example, the military now requires recruits to have a high school diploma, which is currently based on 12 years of school. Will the military accept this new diploma?



In this country students get credit for seat time. You show up, you get passed on. In Europe, Japan, China and other countries that constantly score higher than us students are required to show proficiency in order to graduate. In this country all accountability rests with the teacher. There is little or no accountability for the system as to whether they have funded the schools sufficiently, for the parents as to whether they support the students' educational requirements adequately or for the students as to whether they actually work towards their educational goals. In these other countries accountablility is shared all around. All the required testing that we do here in the name of accountability is primarily to enrich testing companies. And it enriches them a lot. You could buy a ton of educational technology for the cost of all the testing. You will see a whole lot of resistance though if you try to hold school systems, parents and students accountable for their proficiency. That, however, is what results in real education not just test scores.

William Fessenden's picture

A change is needed

Before folks get all antsy about this idea, I suggest visiting this site and reading

The way we deliver education wasn't designed so that a majority of our citizens would be educated. It was designed to move a certain % of our students into professional roles and the rest into manufacturing and assembly lines. The fact that so many of our students to go on to college and do well in life is a testament to our educators. They are exceeding expectations for what the system was set up to do.

How we deliver education today doesn't work for enough of our students. This is a valid response/solution to a pressing problem.

 's picture


"abandoned Learning Results plan adopted in 1997". When were learning results "abandoned and by whom".
The Learning Results were a pro-business, anti-education, anti-student set of ahistoric standards intended to improve the quality of worker available to business. So I'm no friend of learning results. But I was unaware that they had been abandoned. In fact the Department of Education still has a Learning Results web page.
Now Bowen wants to make high school education much more oriented to producing compliant, uninformed worker bees and crippled citizens. I don't think the debate is over when to implement this mind numbing indocrination.


The problem with education,

The problem with education, as I see it, is that the government is too involved with tying the teacher's hands and letting them actually teach. Too much time is spent trying to prepare for this set of tests or that set of tests because they are mandated by the government. The tests are not set up to be beneficial to the different types of learning styles the children have. I say take the tests away and let the teachers teach. Remember, some kids can pass a test and demonstrate proficiency in something but when it comes to applying that knowledge in a real world situation they cannot function. Then you have the kids that do not test well but if you let them show you how to do it in a simulated real life event they will shine. So my advice is to get government out of our schools and let the teachers do what they are trained to do...obviously our government officials are not good in math since they can't seem to balance a budget and constantly underestimate the needs of various departments of the state.

 's picture

Teachers are government

I agree with everything but your characterization. Teachers are government employees. What they do brings government into the classroom as it should. The problem you are really describing is that the teacher-student relationship should, if done properly, produce the best student with the ambition to continue and grow throughout their lives and to fulfill their roles as citizens in building a strong vibrant and successful society. Too often that real goal is compromised by the need of outside organizations (corporations) which have too much power and can impose goals that have nothing to do with citizenship, success, or growth but simply seek to maximize the economic value to them of the student.


Jonathan I think you

Jonathan I think you misunderstood my point and maybe I wasn't clear. Teachers today are teaching to the tests. They are having to prepare students to take standardized tests. They are unable to just teach to each student's style of learning. While some students may be excellent test takers some are not. Some students learn by a hands on style, some by a verbal style, and some by taking tests. Everything today is based on students meeting the goals of the standardized tests. Nothing in those tests actually prepare the student for real life experiences. Some of the students are not good test takers so even though they may know the material they are unable to showcase that knowledge. These tests are government mandated and not "teacher" mandated. I say we need to untie the teachers hands, get rid of the tests, and see what our students actually know without the politicians or their appointees being involved.

 's picture

And I do agree and I apologize for misunderstanding you.

This proposed change only makes that worse.

Karla Good's picture

” The student's scores are

” The student's scores are averaged. He gets a B in math. Teachers conclude he's fine. We move the kid on.”

Teachers are more aware of the problem than Bowen's statement would lead the reader to believe. The system concludes he's fine.


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