LEWISTON — Superintendent Bill Webster apologized Monday night for rolling out a new learning plan before the school district was ready for it.

He and other administrators said new standards and gradings of Proficiency-Based Learning diploma, a state-required plan implemented with this year’s high school freshmen, should be shelved for three years.

While a state law was passed saying it should be implemented with the Class of 2018, the state is now saying districts may take more time.

Lewiston High School Principal Shawn Chabot said current freshmen will finish the school year with the 1-4 grading system, which has been controversial. But in the fall, those sophomores will go back to the traditional grades of 1-100. However, to earn credit toward graduation, students have to get a 76 or higher.

Proficiency-Based Learning is intended to make a high school diploma more meaningful, allowing students to progress at their own pace and advance when they know what they need, not just how much time they’ve spent in school. With PBL came, new standards and a new grading system of 1-4, with a score of 3 being proficient.

This year, freshmen were given until the end of the year to become proficient, and weren’t given grades all year, which frustrated parents who said they didn’t know where their students’ stood.

“Many parents have spoken about the insufficient number of assessments, inconsistencies among teachers, an awkward reporting system, lack of multiple pathways to demonstrate proficiency, the feeling of being guinea pigs and more,” Webster said.

Praising Lewiston teachers as being among the best, Webster said it’s his responsibility “to assess the capabilities and readiness of the district before giving the go ahead on a major district initiative like PBL. I say tonight that on this I fell short. And I apologize.”

In the past two weeks he’s had talks with the Maine Department of Education officials who said every high school who adopted PBL this year encountered pushback from parents. DOE recommended Lewiston pull back and focus on bringing faculty together on what proficiency learning means and to spend time developing consistent standards.

“We do not yet know how best to do this,” Webster said, adding the answer lies in Lewiston teachers to develop standards. Lewiston will get help from DOE experts in June, he said.

Chabot said current freshmen will go back to a traditional grading system. After this year, “we don’t report out any more 1-4.”

The principles of PBL, such as student work ethic and multiple pathways to individual students mastering skills, will continue. But grading, where most of the angst occurred, will revert back to ABCs.

During the next two years, educators will work to get create a common understanding and good base for PBL, as are teachers in earlier grades.

When freshmen in the Class of 2021 arrive, “we’ll be ready for them,” Chabot said. The new grading of 1-4 will begin.

Transcripts of current freshmen will have the 1-4 grades this year with a paragraph stating what happened, Chabot said. Their sophomore, junior and senior years will have traditional grades.

After hearing the high school doesn’t know how many freshmen will need summer school, since students have the entire year to meet standards before getting a grade, School Committee member Paul St. Pierre said the number of students who need help will be important.

“Let’s take the results this year and look at impact of PBL to see what kind of message we’re getting,” St. Pierre said. “For us, the goal is not failing our responsibility to students. We’ve had so many pitfalls come up. I don’t want to lose sight on the impact we’re going to have on the graduation rate if we don’t focus on the opportunities we’re supposed to be giving every child.”

Parent Tina Hutchinson, who’s been one of the PBL critics, said the entire year “has been a roller coaster ride.”

Parents are told to hold their students accountable. “So when are we going to hold the adults responsible? There needs to be accountability for the issues this year,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve been coming to you for months with issues and concerns about PBL, it’s taken us the whole school year to get a (new) draft plan.”

Parent Heidi Sawyer said she has been a PBL advocate, that her son’s learning has improved.

She complained that next year expectations are being dropped, since a grade of 3 meant a student was proficient, and a grade of 3 is close to a 90. Next year, a grade of 76 will be accepted.

“Next year, to drop it down that you’re cool with 76, it doesn’t pass the straight-face test,” Sawyer said.

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