Edward Little High School freshmen, from left, Noah Peck, Nick Stilphen-Leon, Finn Thistle and Jack Howaniec were among the Auburn students and parents who asked the Auburn School Committee on May 2 to make changes in the controversial proficiency-based learning. They said PBL and its “confusing” 1-4 grading system “isn’t working.” (Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — After weeks of complaints from parents and students who feel they are not being heard in the debate over proficiency-based learning, the Auburn School Department has formed a PBL task force.

The group will look into concerns and recommend changes, according to Superintendent Katy Grondin.

The task force has 17 members representing different opinions on PBL. The committee is composed of six parents, six teachers, three Auburn School Committee members and two administrators.

The task force is scheduled to hold its first meeting at 7 a.m. Tuesday, May 15, in the community room of Auburn Hall. The early meeting was the only time members could meet, said Shelly Mogul, curriculum director for the Auburn School Department.

Meanwhile, students, teachers and parents are being asked to respond to surveys seeking widespread community feedback on PBL. Parents have until May 16 to complete the online survey at the school department’s web site (www.auburnschl.edu).

Proficiency-based learning stems from a law passed by the Maine Legislature. It requires that high schools use new standards for awarding diplomas. Instead of the traditional grading system, students are assessed based on having mastered what they need in each subject or by meeting proficiency targets.

This year’s ninth-graders are scheduled to be the first class to graduate with PBL diplomas. PBL’s grading system is based on a 1-4 scale, with a grade of 1 not being proficient, 2 partially proficient, 3 meets proficiency and 4 exceeds proficiency.

Some parents and students have complained that the grades are confusing, that parents do not understand complicated progress reports and that because students can retake tests they fail, students are not motivated to work hard.

Those concerns were aired at the May 2 School Committee meeting, when the room, once again, was full. Several Edward Little High School freshmen, including Noah Peck, asked that the old grading system be returned. Under PBL, “there’s not a push to bring your grade up,” and that PBL is not working.

“A lot of us are lost,” Peck said.

Serving on the task force as parent members are Barbara Howaniec, Matt Hyndman, Laura Garcia, Renee Brezovsky, Pam Foster Albert and Susan Simpson.

Teacher members are Nicole Gatcomb, a fifth-grade teacher at Washburn Elementary; Sue Callahan and Catherine Ramey, both from Auburn Middle School; and Jaclyn Boyd, Craig Latuscha and Marissa Moreau of Edward Little High School.

School Committee members are Patricia Gautier, Bonnie Hayes and Alfreda Fournier. Fournier is a city councilor who is the mayor’s representative on the School Committee.

The two task force administrators are Edward Little Principal Scott Annear and Mogul.

The committee will be facilitated by Mogul and Assistant Superintendent Michelle McClellan.

Parent Scott Thistle, a PBL critic, said he is glad the task force includes strong parent voices, including Laura Garcia, Pamela Albert and Barbara Howaniec.

But Thistle called the parent survey “a bunch of malarkey, because if they were intent on letting the task force work out the issues around PBL, they would have afforded the task force with the opportunity to write its own survey questions.”

Laura Garcia questioned how meaningful the task force will be. She said in an email that she did not like the idea of forming a task force in light of bad feelings parents had about a task force last year on half-day Wednesdays. Lewiston made changes to PBL, going back to traditional grading, without a task force, Garcia said.

She questioned whether the task force is a way “of slowing down the process” as the school year comes to a close, and if the administration hopes community resistance “will die out over the summer as people get busy with schedules.”

Those are not the case, according to Superintendent Grondin.

The community’s concerns, the survey results and task force recommendations “will be taken very seriously,” she said.

“We recognize that this year we made a big step, a big change, in grading and reporting” for grades seven through nine, from 0-100 to 1-4, Grondin said. “We’ve said all along we will check and adjust.”

Grondin has asked for patience as the PBL review happens.

“The process will include all voices in the conversation,” she said.

Parent PBL survey
Auburn parents are being asked to offer feedback about proficiency based learning in a survey from now until May 16.

The survey is on the Auburn School Department’s web page at: http://www.auburnschl.edu

Survey questions to parents include what kind of grading do they support for students, A-F or 1-4.

The survey asks parents for feedback on what they like, or have concerns, about grading changes this year.


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