Bill Would Ease Requirements for 'Proficiency Based' High School Diplomas

May 11, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine - What should high school seniors be expected to master before they are allowed to graduate? Lawmakers on the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee heard public testimony on a proposal aimed at "proficiency-based" diplomas, which will be required as of 2017.

Under current law, students must show they've mastered the material in mathematics, English language arts, science and technology, and the other five subject areas that make up the state learning standards.

Some districts have already gotten there, but many others are struggling to get up to speed.  Supporters of one bill under consideration say it would create a more flexible system to help all high schools get there more quickly.

The measure, sponsored by Victoria Kornfield, a Democratic state representative from Bangor, has strong supporters and vehement opponents. In part, that's because the bill proposes a key change to what students need to do to earn a proficiency-based diploma.

Under the measure, students would still need to prove that they studied math, English and science and technology in each year of high school. But the bill would require students to show proficiency in only two of the eight content areas that make up the state Learning Results.

"We believe this bill would also significantly reduce the academic rigor currently required for graduation in Maine," said David Ruff, who runs the Great Schools Partnership. The group has supported the push toward proficiency-based education in Maine. "At a time when the learning needs for success in careers and college are increasingly rigorous and clear, it makes little sense to reduce learning expectation to two areas of the Maine Learning Results."

"I would encourage you all to ask five superintendents, or five teachers, 'What does proficiency-based mean?'  And you will get five different answers to that question," said John Kosinski, of the Maine Education Association. Districts, the union notes, are all over the map, as they try to move towards proficiency-based diplomas, with little consistent guidance from Augusta and not enough financial support.

Kosinski and the MEA say bills like Kornfield's offer a better alternative. "In front of you today are multiple pathways to, hopefully, fix this proficiency-based system and get it on a better path."

Kornfield's measure, and others that would tweak Maine's approach to proficiency-based education and high school diplomas, will now move to work sessions before the Education Committee.