A proposal for changing graduation requirements is too vague.

I am writing about the proposal to revamp the state’s high school graduation requirements. I attended an informational meeting about the new requirements on Feb. 4 at Lewiston High School. Shannon Welsh, a school superintendent from Durham and a member of the Diploma Stakeholders Group that authored the new graduation requirements, presented the proposal to a packed room of educators and concerned citizens.

The new diploma requirements seek to move away from a traditional credit-based system and move toward a standards-based system in which students must “meet the standard” or “partially meet the standard” in subject areas for which they are currently required to earn credits.

Welsh said the term “credit” would instead become a demonstration of knowledge, not one year of a particular course. Students would be required to “meet the standard” in English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, and social studies.

However, in visual performing arts, health and physical education, world languages, and career and technical education, students may choose only one subject to “meet the standard” and are only required to “partially meet the standard” in the remaining two or three content areas.

There are reasons for concern in this proposal. First, it seems to elevate certain subject areas as a higher priority than others. The language “partially meets the standard” does not recognize the value of these subjects and seems to send students the embedded message that is all right for them to do less than their best work. As an art teacher, I constantly redirect my students to ask the question, “How can I make this better?” rather than, “Am I done?” The language in this proposal says in certain subjects, mediocre work will suffice.

The biggest problem I see with this proposal is that the definitions for “meet the standard” and “partially meet the standard” have not yet been determined. According to the timeline in the proposal, these terms will not be defined until 2010 and a metric for measuring “meet the standard” will not be created until 2012. This proposal goes before the Legislature in Augusta this coming spring, long before any of those definitions have been determined. These two phrases are a huge piece of this proposal and could be defined in many different ways to mean many different things.

One option might be that students must pass Art I to “partially meet the standard” and be required to take additional upper-level art classes to “meet the standard.” Another option is that students who take Art I may be asked to demonstrate knowledge of material learned to determine whether their knowledge “meets the standard” or “partially meets the standard.”

I think it is premature to vote on this proposal before these decisions, definitions, and many other details have been worked out. The idea of cumulative testing to determine whether a student “meets the standard” or “partially meets the standard” calls to mind the intense debate and public outcry that occurred while I was a student at Lewiston High School about a math proficiency test that was required to earn a high school diploma.

Throughout the presentation, Welsh talked about the intention of the stakeholder group to “raise the level of rigor and relevance” for high school graduates. However, the proposal also lays out many alternative routes for students to “meet the standard,” such as online courses, alternative programs and adult education classes. Having a student complete an online course to fulfill a subject requirement hardly raises the bar.

Although I do see some good ideas in this proposal, such as improved coordination between vocational and traditional high school classes, it has too many unanswered questions.

It needs a lot more work before it is sent to legislators in Augusta for a vote.

Laura Damon is a graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and is studying for an art education degree at the University of Southern Maine. She lives in Lewiston.

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