SAD 17 puts proficiency grading on hold

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GRADING CONCERNS — Parent Mark Bancroft asked the SAD 17 Board of Directors to take parental concern into consideration when they vote on a proficiency based grading system.

PARIS —Action by the SAD 17 Board of Directors on a proficiency-based grading and graduation policy has been postponed indefinitely.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts said he intends to recommend to the Board of Directors that the school district continue with the current grading and graduation policy for the next school year.

“Based on the feedback I will be postponing the second reading of the grading and graduation policy indefinitely,”  Colpitts told the Advertiser Democrat Monday.

The board had been set to take a final vote on a change from the traditional 0-100 grading to a 1-4 proficiency-based system when questions from parents and a subsequent call from directors for more dialog between parents and the administration caused administrators to slow down.

“We would like to be able to fully research and address the questions raised at the forum before proceeding with a recommendation,” Colpitts said. “I will be recommending we continue with our current grading and graduation policy for the 2018-19 school year.  This will give more time to continue the dialogue with students, parents and staff. ”

The eight pages of feedback from several dozen parents who attended a June 14 public forum indicated that many people are supportive of proficiency-based learning, but have concerns about the accompanying grading system.

Questions ranged from how the proficiency-based learning system would benefit students in the college admissions process to how it will affect grade point average and what teacher training looks like.

In 2012, Maine became the first state in the nation to mandate a proficiency-based diploma that now requires students to show proficiency by 2021 in mathematics, science, English and social studies.

The law left how proficiency was to be graded up to the individual school districts.

While the state law does not require school districts to abandon A-F grading some adopted (and some subsequently revoked) a proficiency-based 1-4 grading system is being considered by many and adopted by some.

The grading system, that has become controversial in some school districts, awards a 1 for not proficient, 2 for partially proficient, 3 for proficient and 4 for exceeding proficiency.

Less than a dozen high schools reportedly graduated students with proficiency-based diplomas this year.

On May 17  the SAD 17 Board of Directors voted to implement a new policy that sets the foundation for proficiency-based learning in the Oxford Hills School District but agreed to delay a final vote on how students will be graded when community members began to call directors with concerns.

A public forum was set up for June 14 to provide further guidance on the new system to parents.

But concern further surfaced at the June 18 Board of Directors meeting when parent Mark Bancroft asked the board to wait before it voted in a new grading system until the parents who were unable to attend the June 14 public forum could be heard from.

Bancroft told the Board of Directors at the June 18 directors meeting that he was pleased with the forum, which provided an overview of the new system then broke into small group discussions.

“I thought it was very productive, more than I ever hoped going into it,” he said.

Bancroft, who has had three children in the Oxford Hills School District including one who graduated, said his wife and he support proficiency-based curriculum but have reservations with the proposed grading system.

“We have no issue with that (the concept of proficiency-based education.) It’s the  1-4 grading system, as opposed to 1-100. We’re very much in support of the 1-100 grading system as it pertains to college admission down the road.

“I think it’s time for the board to hear from people on the other side,” said Bancroft. “People who don’t like it People who tried it and didn’t like it. Somehow you need to hear the other side of this before you make a decision which is only a month away.”

Many of the directors agreed that evening and suggested that the vote to implement the new grading system should be delayed from July until August.

“We’d be jumping the gun to make any decisions without further parent involvement,” said West Paris Director Natalie Brown at the June 18 meeting.

Colpitts said at the board meeting that the parents forum was just one outlet to keep the community-at-large involved in the process and if more forums are needed, they will be held.

Colpitts said the administration is open to listening but the administrative team that is recommending the change, does so based on its experience studying proficiency, but that doesn’t mean there are no concerns.

“The struggle we have is the more intervals the harder it is to describe to a student and the teacher how you place the student on that interval,” he explained of the proposed 1-4 grading system.

Concern widespread

The issues of grading, and how it affects class ranking and whether there will be one valedictorian or many, and other questions  is not specific to the Oxford Hills School District.

Schools districts across the state have been grappling not so much with proficiency-based education, which has been around and used in various forms for years even within the Oxford Hills School District, but rather how to report and grade students’ learning skills.

Recently the Auburn School Department announced it will return to the traditional 0-100 grading system rather than keep the proficiency-based learning 1-4 grading system.

According to reports in the Sun Journal, Auburn parents and students have complained about proficiency-based learning in recent months saying that “because students can retake tests and are given whatever time they need to do their work, some students have lost motivation to work.”

Others were reported to say that grading and progress reports are confusing, and students get the same scores, even when some do higher-quality work.

Auburn is not the only district to reconsider proficiency grading.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster announced in March that the high school would return to 0-100 grading in the fall.

SAD 17 Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hartnett said the issue should not pit one group against the other – “winners against losers.”

“I don’t want us to be thinking of decisions as a side,” Hartnett said at the June 18 board meeting. “Grading is incredibly complex. If we stay 0-100 it’s a myth to think it’s not complex. If we move to 1-4, it’s amazingly complex. It’s a new world and a new world we don’t know. I’m not lobbying either way. I don’t want it to be me and us or them. It really is what will make sense for our kids.”

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net