Proficiency-based learning in Auburn: Grades 7-12 may return to traditional grading

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Renee Brezovsky, far left, Laura Garcia, Matt Hyndman and Pam Foster Albert, far right, parent members of the proficiency-based learning task force, meet Tuesday at Edward Little High School in Auburn. Edward Little Principal Scott Annear is fourth from left. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — This fall, grades 7-12 in Auburn might be returning to the traditional 0-100 grading system, according to how the majority of a task force was leaning Tuesday.

At the Proficiency-Based Learning Task Force’s second-to-last scheduled meeting, most of its 18 members gave thumbs-up to ditching the 1-4 scoring now used for grades 7-9.

Three members of the task force said they wanted to keep the 1-4 scores, and a few described themselves as undecided.

The group, meeting at the Edward Little High School library, agreed that if it recommends a return to traditional 0-100 grading, the following should happen:

• Learning targets be retained.

• Teachers grade students using one system, not both the 0-100 and 1-4 grading.

• Teachers have input on how the overall grade is determined, and students’ habits of work be reported to parents.

A majority of Auburn parents, students and teachers responding to an Auburn School Department survey said they wanted a return to 0-100 grading for grades 7-12.

Proficiency-based learning, known as PBL, stems from a law passed by the Maine Legislature that requires high schools to use new standards for awarding diplomas. Under PBL, students are assessed on having mastered skills in each subject, or by meeting proficiency targets.

Current freshmen are scheduled to be the first class to graduate with PBL diplomas. PBL’s grading system is based on a scale of 1-4, with 1 being not proficient, 2 partially proficient, 3 meets proficiency and 4 exceeds proficiency.

PBL has been controversial in Lewiston and Auburn this winter and spring. Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster announced in March that the high school would return to 0-100 grading in the fall.

In recent months, Auburn parents and students have complained about PBL, saying that because students can retake tests and are given whatever time they need to do their work, some students have lost motivation to work.

Other complaints include that grading and progress reports are confusing, and students get the same scores, even when some do higher-quality work.

Responding to concerns, the Auburn School Department formed a PBL task force last month.  It includes parents, teachers, School Committee members and two administrators.

At the task force’s third meeting Tuesday, parents Laura Garcia, Barbara Howaniec and Susan Simpson were among those who favored going back to traditional grading.

Two teachers and parent Matt Hyndman favored keeping grades of 1-4, saying target-based learning is better than the old way.

Under PBL, the goal is to graduate students who have met the standards in eight subjects, ending social promotion. Going back to traditional grades “would be holding the system back,” Hyndman said.

Garcia said social promotion is a cultural problem that happens when teachers are pressured to pass students.

“It doesn’t matter which system we use,” she said, adding that problems could still continue.

Simpson said her problem with PBL is that students can take whatever time they need to complete their work.

“A lack of time frame” is not part of the real world, Simpson said. “What message are we sending to kids?”

Also, the scoring is confusing, she said.

“Sometimes,” she said, “a score of 2 is the best you can do. Sometimes a 2 is real bad.”

Edward Little social studies teacher Craig Latuscha said regardless of which grading system is used, there will be students who are high achievers and some “who don’t do anything.” He agreed that students need deadlines.

When a soccer player is late, that player “sits on the bench. There’s no excuses,” Latuscha said, adding that having no time limits “is not preparing them for the real world.”

The task force is scheduled to meet June 14 to finalize its recommendations, which will be taken up by the School Committee on June 20 so changes can be implemented before classes begin this fall.

 

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