FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9’s Education Policy Committee met on Tuesday night and reviewed the grading policies the Board of Directors adopted for the upcoming academic school year, maintaining the same assessment procedures it used in the 2018–2019 period.

RSU 9 had been working towards Maine’s legal requirement that all public schools in the state award high school diplomas based on students demonstrating they had mastered the state’s various academic standards in their coursework, not on graded assignments and tests. The district began implementing student assessments according to the standards but in a hybrid fashion that retained traditional grading of 0–100 to determine graduation.

The newer grading system, often referred to as “proficiency based education,” or PBE, was implemented in Maine starting in 2012 and school districts were given five years to come into compliance with it. The requirement was later adjusted by lawmakers, which would have seen high schools seniors earn diplomas using the new proficiency based criteria by 2021.

As teachers and administrators assessed how the parameters affect learning, RSU 9 adjusted its implementation, tightening up expectations for improved performance by incorporating deadlines and benchmarks for students to adhere to, and bringing back graded assignments (considered ungraded “practice work” in proficiency based education). The basic scoring elements for PBE were 1–4 marks—which some feared would make it difficult to report grades on college applications.

RSU 9 shifted to a system that enabled teachers to assess positive and negative movement on a student’s progress over the course of a semester and school year. A student is assessed on standards and learning targets that indicate if he exceeds the standards, meets the standards, partially meets them, or does not meet them. The assessment is done concurrently with traditional grading, allowing the student and teacher to monitor school work habits while still earning traditional number grades. Generally speaking, a number grade of 60 would meet a performance level of partially meeting proficiency standards.

Earlier this year the Maine Legislature eliminated the requirement that graduating students earn their diplomas according to proficiency standards, but in repealing the law left it possible for individual districts to continue the grading policy if they choose. Some will do just that and others will revert to traditional grading immediately. Other districts are expected to continue with a hybrid model similar to that RSU 9 has worked under.

“Even though the law was relaxed, administrators still have to consider proficiency based vs. traditional grading,” said RSU 9 superintendent Tina Meserve. “Our district did not stop the traditional grading system to award diplomas, and I am recommending to the Board of Directors that we continue that way.”

That will solve the situation of high school graduates emerging with diplomas but leaves other considerations. For this coming school year 2019–20, the RSU 9 Board will also have decide how to handle the different grading standards.

“The problem with the current law is that it has more requirements for graduates under the proficiency diploma option than the traditional diploma,” said Meserve. “I believe it would disadvantage our students to change at this point. We have seen no evidence that college admissions counselors struggle to interpret the grades. We had a Colby College and University of Maine at Farmington counselor come to answer questions by parents and they stressed that it makes no difference and they interpret many kinds of transcripts from all over the world.

“Our district policy was going in the direction of the state mandate. Now, traditional grading isn’t in alignment with the policy we were adopting,” Meserve said. “The Education Policy Committee is likely to recommend that the Board review the standards after this academic year.

“We implemented the new standards to a degree, modified them over time, and now I believe we should work through one more year before doing any critical analysis, said Meserve. “I’d like to see our administration take the time to assess the data we’re collecting on performance and learning. The Board will need to decide to revise the grading policy to align with current practices, to table the policy review for another year or to dissolve the policy completely.”

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