SAD 17 board considers language requirement for diploma

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PARIS — All students graduating from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School will have to demonstrate proficiency in a world language, but meeting that requirement may be a struggle, school officials said.

Proficiency-based education requires students to demonstrate mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn before they progress to the next lesson, get promoted to the next grade level or receive a diploma, according to the state statute. It also removes the traditional A-F grading system.

The diploma requirement starts in 2018, unless an extension is granted.

Last week, SAD 17 board member Lewis Williams of Hebron asked administrators why every student had to be proficient in a foreign language, what the word “proficient” means in this situation and how that requirement would be met.

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With less than half of SAD 17 high school students enrolled in a world language class, there are problems to be resolved, SAD 17 officials agreed.

“That’s one of the problems we have to work out,” Superintendent Rick Colpitts told the board.

The Department of Education defines proficiency in the context of language as “what one is able to do in a language, not level of achievement.” It requires a student to understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics.

There are a number of required performance indicators that students must meet, such as the ability to ask and respond to questions about familiar topics based on their own lives and interests.

Students are rated on a level of proficiency, from novice to intermediate to advanced.

Colpitts  said, “If you’re able to get around in a country that’s friendly to Americans — a sympathetic listener, I think is the way they defined it — then you’re OK.”

To achieve this goal, school officials said they must look at what the district offers, how many students are taking a foreign language, how many will need to do so and set a plan to reach that goal, Heather Manchester, director of curriculum in the Oxford Hills Schools District. said.

“We’ve got to see what more we need,” Manchester said.

Of the 1,078 students at the high school, 474 are taking a foreign language. Of that number, 144 students are taking Latin I, II, III, IV or AP Latin, 134 students are enrolled in French I, II, III or IV; 177 are studying Spanish I, II, III or IV, and 19 students are taking Mandarin I or II.

At the middle school, all 479 students receive one trimester of Spanish in their seventh and eighth grade.

Colpitts said six years ago, the district offered an introduction to foreign language at the elementary level, but that offering was cut from the budget around 2009.

“Some districts are saying we will make them proficient by the time they leave elementary and that’s proficient enough,” Colpitts told board members. “That’s not proficient for someone going on to college, who might need two years of language at the high school level.”

Because of the wide-ranging changes in the proficiency-based diploma requirements and the desire to have a plan in place that provides the best opportunities for SAD 17 students, the Board of Directors voted Oct. 6 to approve the district’s proficiency-based diploma extension application.

The district is one of several dozen that have applied by the Oct. 18 deadline for more time.

If approved, SAD 17 will have until 2019 to enact the plan.

The Department of Education is offering free regional workshops for world language teachers so they can understand the proficiency levels.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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