Maine officials optimistic about national education standards

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To read the proposal for national education standards and to submit feedback, go tocan be found at: www.corestandards.org.

LEWISTON — A day after governors and education leaders proposed that all states adopt a single set of standards so all public school students learn the same skills at the same time, some Maine educators applauded the idea.

“It’s necessary,” said Lewiston Superintendent Leon Levesque, whose Longley Elementary School was recently named one of 10 “persistently low achieving schools” in Maine.

“We have 50 states with 50 different performance standards, and people are all over the place,” Levesque said. “And yet, we try to compare and identify low-performing schools and do all this stuff. We’re not comparing apples to apples. Nationally, if we’re going to get a hold of our expectations, we probably should all be on the same page.”

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The proposal is being coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron is president of the council’s board.

“What is different about mathematics (nationwide)?” Gendron asked. “What is different about English language arts and writing skills? There’s overwhelming agreement that our standards should be more alike than different.”

The proposal has been in the works for a year and a half and has received input from state leaders and teachers along the way, including those in Maine. It outlines a set of grade-by-grade standards, detailing what students should know and be able to do in kindergarten through grade 12 for English, social studies, science and math.

For English, those skills include identifying characters, settings and key events in a story in kindergarten, determining the main idea and supporting details of a text in grade four, analyzing how elements of a story interact in grade eight and analyzing in detail the condensed language of poems in grades 11 and 12.

For math, skills include counting to 100 in kindergarten, solving problems using multiplication and division in grade four, understanding the Pythagorean Theorem in grade eight and rewriting expressions using the laws of exponents in high school algebra.

Maine has been working to implement its own set of standards, known as the Maine Learning Results, for years. Gendron said the state is studying the national proposal to see how different the Learning Results may be from the national standards. Based on an initial analysis, she didn’t think they would be much different.

“So it’s really an affirmation of the good work that Maine did in revising its standards,” she said.

In the past, some Maine educators have balked at the idea of national standards, concerned they would lead to a national curriculum, taking away local control and impairing teacher creativity in the classroom.

But Gendron said the current effort — which was led by states, not the federal government — would not take away local control over curriculum nor tell teachers how to teach.

“It still leaves what I call the craft of teaching,” she said. “It does not prescribe a curriculum of what will be taught where and when and with what materials.”

In Lewiston, Levesque said he’s long been a proponent of national standards.

“I’ve always believed we should have high expectations and be on the same page,” he said. “I think it’s going to help all students.”

Auburn Superintendent Tom Morrill called the national proposal “an interesting concept.”

But, he added, “the devil’s in the details.” He was intrigued by the idea, but he wondered about the funding to implement the standards.

“What we’re embarking upon is really high performance for all students and excellence for all students and that is certainly a very important enterprise, but it does require resources,” he said.

The national groups spearheading the proposal are accepting public input. The proposal can be found at: www.corestandards.org.

The Legislature’s Education Committee has voted to pass a bill that gives Gendron the authority to adopt the national standards, a Maine Department of Education spokesman said.

The bill now goes to the full Legislature for consideration. If it’s approved by the Legislature, Gendron would be able to implement the standards but only as part of an emergency rule, meaning the Legislature would have the power to review the situation the following year.

ltice@sunjournal.com

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