LEWISTON — More than 20 students, staff and parents aired their grievances about a new system of instruction, assessment, grading and academic reporting to the School Committee on Monday night.

High school student Mackenzie Richard presented a petition signed by 259 high school students opposed to moving from a numerical grading system of 1 to 100 to one that ascribes numbers 1-4.

Richard serves as a student representative on the high school proficiency-based learning implementation committee.

Proficiency-based learning is based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education.

She said that under Maine law, “The implementation of a proficiency-based diploma is not required until the class of 2021.”

The school department is planning to fully transition to the new grading system in the 2018-19 school year.

Currently, only freshmen have grades of 1-4.

Richard said the decision to implement it for next year’s juniors and seniors is scary.

“We’ve reached out to colleges and they’ve said this will affect the admissions process,” she said.

Next year’s juniors and seniors would have mixed transcripts if the change goes through.

Richard also said the law “does not require implementation of 1-4 grading and does not require the use of Empower as a grading system.”

Empower, a computer software program for grading, was begun this school year to work with the 1-4 grading system.

Parent Jamie Watson said that since the implementation of Empower, she has not seen a single piece of work come home. When she was given her child’s report card, there was not information on it that told how the grade was figured.

“I don’t know if my kids are completing the homework they tell me they did, I have no idea how they perform on a test,” she said.

She said that after hearing from teachers about the difficulty they have with the program, it does not seem good on either end.

High school teacher Keith Levesque said Monday that Empower is also costing the school a lot of money in financing the software and hiring people to help teachers learn how to use it.

Lewiston Middle School student Sam Courtemanche said that with the 1-100 grading system, making honor roll was a challenge.

“When I made the honor roll it was an accomplishment,” he said. “Now, the honor roll is base on habits-of-work grades. You just show up to class, get your work done and you make the honor roll. That may do it for some people but it doesn’t do it for me. It doesn’t give me that push to get the best grade.”

High school student Hunter Steele said that after school Monday he asked teachers if they had to put the 1-4 grading system into 1-100, how would they?

He said the results were concerning.

“Some said you had to get a 100 to get a 4, others said 90-100. The consistency is not there. And 3 was anything above a 70. That is concerning.”

Student Hope Bowen said the change in grading is discouraging for students and unfair to put over a thousand students in a 1-4 category.

“I still work hard, try hard, but I used to be a really motivated student,” she said. “I still do my work, I still try hard, but I don’t feel I have to try as hard. Why should I when other students who aren’t trying are getting the same grades as me?”

Teachers Union President and Lewiston High School math teacher Samantha Garnett Sias said teachers are under insurmountable stress that pulls them away from their students.

“Empower, proficiency-based learning, and all that comes along with them, have been a figurative straw on the overburdened backs of Lewiston educators,” she said.

She also said she and many other teachers don’t believe a lot of the changes are in the best interest of the students.

Sias recommended rolling back Empower and giving immediate relief to some teachers’ workload.

She advised the school department should redirect resources to sufficiently staff the schools with mental health professionals, especially in light of the recent school shooting in Florida and recent, although unfounded, local school threats.

The school committee did not respond to the individual comments Monday night. 

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Lewiston High School teacher Michelle Crowley addresses the Lewiston School Committee on Monday night about the problems the new instruction, grading and academic system has created for students and teachers. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Lewiston Middle School student Sam Courtemanche speaks to the Lewiston School Committee on Monday about his frustrations with the new instruction, assessment, grading and academic reporting system. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Lewiston High School teacher Tyson Reissfelder, a parent of a Lewiston Middle School student, talks to the School Committee on Monday night about the frustrations with the new instruction, assessment, grading and academic reporting system. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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