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School board reviews proficiency-based diplomas, director questions superintendent’s job performance

FARMINGTON - The Mt. Blue Regional School District reviewed the proficiency-based diploma system that will impact the incoming freshman class Tuesday, after welcoming two new board directors and discussing the superintendent's job performance.

The school board welcomed Director Lidie Robbins of Vienna, who is replacing outgoing Director Helen Wilkey, and Director Jeff Harris of New Sharon. Harris will serve until New Sharon elects a new school board director at the March town meeting, replacing Director Jennifer Pooler on the board.

The board also heard a complaint from Director Craig Stickney of Chesterville regarding Superintendent Thomas Ward's job performance. Stickney said that had requested legal information regarding the Success and Innovation Center initiative at the Mt. Blue Campus and the district's dual-diploma system with Beijing #2 School in China and had not received them yet. He also cited two other incidents, one in which the district had been seeking to provide housing for a Chinese student six days before the student arrived and another regarding a disciplinary issue that occurred earlier this year.

Stickney said that the board was not being properly informed by the superintendent, saying that he had "very little confidence" in Ward and said that he believed that Ward should seek employment elsewhere. Stickney said that he would not make a motion of no confidence in the superintendent, as he did not believe it would pass.

Ward responded by saying that the district had an evaluation process in place for the superintendent, and that Stickney could pursue his concerns through that. He added that no taxpayer money had been spent on any of the issues that Stickney had raised. In the case of the legal issues, Ward said, it was summer and lawyers sometimes go on vacation.

The district currently utilizes Drummond Woodsum out of Portland, a large firm that specializes in education law, among other practices, and represents a number of districts across the state.

Director Cherieann Harrison of Wilton agreed with Stickney that a vote of no confidence would not be supported by the school board. She said that her personal opinion was that Ward made decisions with the best thoughts of students and schools in mind. While Harrison said that she disagreed with some decisions that had been made, citing the Chinese dual diploma program, she pointed out that it was the school board that made those decisions.

The board spent most of the meeting reviewing proficiency-based diplomas, a system that will begin rolling out for the incoming freshman class. State law mandates that students graduating in 2021 and onward receive a proficiency-based diploma.

In a proficiency- or standards-based education system, students are evaluated through the completion of skills relating to each academic subject; each standard needs to be met before the student advances to the next lesson or class. The benefit of the system is that it identifies the specific subject matter needs of the student. Students would need to demonstrate proficiency in a number of standards for each content area - math, science, social studies, etc. - prior to graduating. Showing proficiency in a standard would require the student to show how they got to an answer, so cramming for a test and spouting back responses would not be sufficient.

Students that struggle with a specific standard would receive targeted intervention, which could take the form of additional tutoring, teaching the subject matter a different way and/or taking an additional test to demonstrate that proficiency. Additional intervention would also be possible through the extended day and extended year programs.

Report cards would list standards for each subject, describing which ones the student was proficient in and which ones needed more work.

"It will be a learning curve for our teachers and for our students," Director of Curriculum Leanne Condon said. She said that the district would be working to perfect the system throughout the year.

Parent Tammy Mayhew, who said that she has children entering the 9th grade this year, said that she thought the new system would come as a surprise to parents, particularly when they receive the first report card.

"I think this is going to come as a shock to a lot of parents," Mayhew said. "I really do."

Responding to a question by Director Irving Faunce of Wilton, Condon said that the district would be educating parents by holding events for the families of incoming students. They would also be forming a Parent Action Committee to assist the district in the transition. The subject would also be addressed at parent/teacher conference meetings.

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16 Responses »

  1. Isn't proficiency a graduation requirement already? What the hell? Schools should be teaching students to be proficient. What do they do now, hand out participation diplomas where all a student has to do is, show up? And why are parents so upset about a school wanting to give their children and the world the best possible education and future employees?

  2. To the above comment. Why? This is a State wide initiative. Please tell me your profession so I can make off-hand comments about things I know nothing about and cannot understand. Thank you.

  3. What I read about this proficiency-based system it sure sounds like testing with a grading system.
    Isn't this already being done?
    Maybe the writer of the article could have explained a little better as to what is the current base for diplomas so we could compare the two systems? It reads to me like the student would not get a diploma, get to graduate, move on, unless they meet this " new standard ".
    This could create a whole new class of " lifetime students " and if it is State mandated then, well there you have it, obviously the local schools have no choice.

  4. Samo, your snarky comment is no better than the first. Thank you for perpetuating the negative dialogue.

  5. I believe they are taking away the ABCD grading system and giving them 1-2-3-or 4 which seems strange to me. When these kids apply to college their grades won't mean a thing. I don't know about Farmington but I know that is what they are doing in other school systems and I have been told it is state wide.

  6. Ditto, Amanda. Don't act as if you are taking the high road, just to deflate a good argument.

  7. Billyjoebob, the best way I can explain the difference between the "old" grading system and the "new" proficiency based system (in fact Maine schools have been teaching and assessing with standards for years in preparation for the state mandate) is this way:

    It used to be you could finish a year with a B in math, right? Well, that B was an average of a bunch of scores on work you did on different math skills over the year. But let's say you earned A+ on some work, say the more algebraic type of work because you really understood that well, yet you earned C's and maybe even some Ds on the more geometric skills that year because you struggled with geometry. That B doesn't show any of that, right? It doesn't give a clear picture of what you actually learned and what the teacher really needs to re-teach you so that you do learn. The "new" proficiency system breaks down each subject area into specific standards, and a student gets a score indicating if he or she met the standard, exceeded the standard, or still needs more time to meet the standard (or show that he/she learned the skill). Scores are based on several pieces of work or demonstrations (evidence) from a student, not just one test.

    In this way, the kid who was once the "B" student gets to show his or her achievement in areas of strength, and teachers and parents are aware of where this student needs some specific assistance/re-teaching/more time.

  8. p.s. Also, in the new proficiency system, scores aren't averaged. The goal is that by the end of each academic year a student will meet or exceed all of the standards within the subject areas. This is just an example of a 9th grade writing standard:

    Writing: Text Types and Purposes:
    "Students will write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence."

    For more info you can go to:

  9. Thank you for explaining that Wendy.
    I have to wonder how students like I was will fit into that. I was at college level math in the 8th grade and had decided I really didn't need any more math so I just stopped all homework and tests.
    I guess the school would release the student, but without a diploma?
    My thoughts are that many students are ready for trades and apprentice programs before graduating age.
    Not only that but many people are " visual " ( geometry ) and some are mental ( algebra ) so it may be moot to force learn an area when the time would be better spent advancing in the stronger area.

  10. I would like to thank Mr. Stickney for looking out for our children's education and for the people supplying the funding for their education, (the property owners of this district). I would also like to thank him for trying to create transparency of the board and administrators ( including the super intendant ), for trying to do things by the book and for trying to hold people accountable for their actions. This is not too much to ask of people involved in educating our children. Thank you once again Mr. Stickney.

  11. billyjoebob: MBHS students today need to have completed the right 24 courses successfully to graduate. During their four years as a MBHS student they have scheduling room for 32 courses, so many do take advantage of creep and technical training at Foster Tech, some have taken advantage of truck driving training at Region 9, in Mexico. Others have earned senior privilege, and stay home for a period a day, or go to work in the morning or afternoon.

    Students also take advantage of some of the courses available at UMF, and some are now participating in earning college course credit along with their required credits in classrooms and Mt Blue.

    As you can see from some of these options available today, learning is going on far beyond the traditional classroom.

  12. @ SaRGe...I ditto that

  13. many do take advantage of career and technical training at Foster Tech.

  14. Thanks Matt. Not everyone can be a Bill Gates and we certainly need skilled everyday workers.

  15. If anyone is interested, the state of Maine has a website with lots of links on proficiency based education - a good thing since the state is mandating this kind of program:

    To me the big takeaway is that it's an effort to identify and help early those students who now slip by with barely passing grades but don't develop the skills they need. It should not decrease the demands made on students, it isn't a "lower" standard.

    Also, thanks to RSU 9 teachers and staff who have put it among the top ranked districts in the state!

    Is is especially good given how we are in the bottom third of districts on cost per pupil, competing with those wealthier districts on the coast! Keep up the good work, you are appreciated teachers, staff, and all RSU 9 employees!

  16. So with this new system a student who has been an honors student on report cards may in fact start not making honors because of 1 point? Am I understanding this?