Teachers, parents defend proficiency-based learning

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LEWISTON — Supporters of the new student grading system urged the School Committee on Monday night to stay the course, despite opposition from some students, parents and teachers.

Freshman Elena Clothier, 14, said this is her first year using proficiency-based learning and it benefits students.

Students can redo assignments they failed until they have learned what they need to know.

“Also, you always know exactly what you need to work on by seeing which standards you failed,” Clothier said.

The online reporting system is difficult to use, Clothier said, but if it’s improved or explained “there’d be much less complaints about (proficiency-based learning).”

Last week, a group of teachers, parents and students told the committee the new system is not working and will harm the college admissions process.

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Proficiency-based learning is a system of instruction, assessment, grading and academic reporting. It is based on students demonstrating they have learned the knowledge and skills expected of them. It grades work on a scale of 1 to 4, instead of 0-100.

The Lewiston School Department is planning to fully transition to it in the 2018-19 school year. Currently, it’s only used for freshmen.

Peter Geiger, former chairman of the State Board of Education, said he regrets there hasn’t been consistent leadership at the Maine Department of Education to help districts implement the system, but he supports it.

Opponents of the system testified a week ago that colleges don’t accept proficiency-based transcripts.

“Nothing is further from the truth,” Geiger said, presenting a list of 73 colleges that do. “A’s and B’s don’t mean anything. (Proficiency-based learning) is going to get you into college. Don’t throw (it) out.”

Parents Karen McClure-Richard and Jillian Shepard spoke against the system.

Shepard said she spoke to a Boston college admissions person who told her the college will admit some students and monitor whether they can handle the rigor, but that it will be a couple of years before the college understands the new system, Shepard said.

“We’re talking about keeping our kids competitive,” she said. “A lot of kids are looking beyond the state of Maine.”

Most speaking Monday favored the system.

Doug Dumont, aspirations coordinator at Lewiston High School, said he’s had countless conversations with college admissions counselors from all over the country.

“Every single one has indicated that (proficiency-based learning) grading system will have no adverse impact on an individual’s opportunity for admission,” he said, including the University of Chicago, Brown University, Princeton University and Bates College.

Don Ferrara, assistant principal at Lewiston High School, said 10 years ago he worked at Hall-Dale High School which used the system. They had the same growing pains, the same opposition groups.

“Misinformation runs rampant,” he warned. He said “students will get into college” under the new system.

It allows “learning to be the constant. Time to be the variable,” he said. “For too long seat time equaled credit.”

Students have to show what they can do, he said.

There are glitches to be solved, he said, “but the old system is broken. We know that. If we go back to that, it is education malpractice.”

Lewiston Middle School teacher Angela Gilbert said seven years ago every teacher taught different subjects.

“Now teachers and students are on the same page,” she said. “We’re able to help each other in a way we couldn’t before. We need to stay the course and keep the 1-4 grading scale.”

Students know that a two means “they’re almost there,” she said. “A 3 means they nailed it. Students are owning their learning in a way I have never seen before.”

Lewiston High School teacher Donna Olsen said proficiency-based learning “shifts the focus of the classroom from teacher instruction to student learning. The consequence for not learning “is that you have to try again, whether it takes one try or more than one try.”

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Lewiston High School freshman Elena Clothier, 14, tells the Lewiston School Committee on Monday night that she likes proficiency-based learning. Clothier and many teachers and parents spoke in support of the new learning system. The committee will take up the issue March 19. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Peter Geiger speaks in support of the new proficiency-based learning system during the Lewiston School Committee meeting Monday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Parent Karen McClure-Richard, right, speaks against the new proficiency-based learning system at the Lewiston School Committee meeting Monday night. She said it could hurt students trying to get into selective programs in college. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Lewiston Middle School custodian Jordan Berube gets a hug from Lewiston Middle School Principal Jana Mates, after Berube was given a certificate of appreciation during the Lewiston School Committee meeting on Monday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

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