Auburn teacher Diana Carson and other teachers tell the Auburn School Committee on Wednesday night that proficiency-based learning, which is under fire from parents, is improving lessons. Several parents, however, complained about the new system. Superintendent Katy Grondin said she is forming a task force to improve the new system.

AUBURN — Teachers told the Auburn School Committee on Wednesday night that the proficiency-based learning system under fire from parents is working and should not be thrown out.

“The work we’re doing is valid,” Edward Little High School teacher Peter Marris said. “It’s best for kids. We’re going in the right direction.”

He teaches freshmen who are getting PBL grades of 1-4 and sophomores who have the traditional 0-100 grades. A PBL score of 1 means not proficient, 2 means getting there, 3 is proficient and 4 is exceeding proficiency.

His freshmen with a PBL score of 3 “actually know something,” Marris said. His sophomores who get a 72 pass, but “they don’t know the material. They don’t really get it.”

PBL isn not perfect, but it is helping, Marris said.


“Let’s not throw away all of our work that’s been done,” he said.

Teacher Diane Carson said PBL allows students to learn at their own pace, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

Sixth-grade teacher Laurie Elliott said she believes in PBL diplomas, that when colleges look at them, “the college can see what students know,” unlike with letter grades. 

PBL is encouraging students to take ownership of their lessons, she said.

“This is the first year I’ve had students say: ‘What can I do to get better? What do I need to know?'” Elliott said.

As the meeting got underway, Grondin and School Committee members said they have received many PBL complaints from parents. Grondin announced a task force will be formed to make improvements. The task force will get to work after the April vacation.


The idea of a task force and of teachers speaking in support of PBL angered parent Scott Thistle.

“It’s really easy to stack a hearing with people that come out of the schools to talk about a system (that) the wheels have come off the bus,” Thistle said.

He asked how the task force would be formed.

“I want to know,” Thistle said. “How are we going to get this system to work?”

Parents have tried to talk about PBL with school officials “and have been shut down by the chairman of this school committee,” Thistle said. “We have been lied to by this committee and told this was a mandate by the state government.”

It’s not, he said. The mandate is that students will have to earn proficiency-based diplomas.


After he sat down, School Committee Chairman Tom Kendall asked that the future speakers be respectful.

Thistle yelled from his seat: “You want respect? Give respect! You’re in the seat because you were unopposed. That’s the only reason you’re here.”

Thistle then stormed out of the room.

Speaking to the audience, Kendall said that public education too often has failed students, that it is measured by the number of remedial classes high school graduates must take in college because they are not up to speed.

“We are trying to change that,” Kendall said. “Yet what we hear too often is, ‘We don’t want to change.’ We’re hopeful of making change for the better. We’re heard tonight that students engaged in this are mastering their own learning.”

Other parents, including Stacey Fournier, said she has a student who is not motivated by PBL. She misses parent-teacher conferences that she says are not happening.


“I’m at a complete loss as to what’s going on,” Fournier said.

Holding up a PBL progress report, Fournier said, “I don’t know how to read this.”

Parent Laura Garcia, who on March 14 called PBL an experiment that is failing, said Wednesday she does not have concerns with the younger grades. But her middle school student has been told she cannot get higher than a score of 3, that PBL students are not motivated “because everybody’s going to get the same grade.”

While teachers said PBL allows students to learn from mistakes, Garcia said, “reality is not constantly getting a chance to redo, redo, redo.”

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