MSMA: Committee says graduation bill needs more work

Maine School Management Association


May 21, 2009

Committee says graduation bill needs more work

The Education Committee Thursday voted unanimously to amend the Department of Education’s proposed graduation requirements bill, stripping out everything except the approval of multiple pathways – including Career and Technical Education – to earn a diploma and the need to have interventions throughout all grade levels to help students before they fail.

The committee also charged the department to work with the state’s five main education organizations – Maine School Boards Association, Maine School Superintendents Association, Maine Education Association, Maine Principals’ Association and Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities -- and others, to develop a better defined proposal on what students will have to do to graduate.  A new bill could be reported out in January of 2010 based on the study’s committee’s recommendation, with the hope of keeping the goal of having something in place for the Class of 2016.

“This bill was not ready for prime time,” said Rep. Peter Johnson, R-Greenville, summarizing the sentiments of his fellow committee members.

One of the biggest concerns about the bill was it wasn’t clear on what assessments students would have to take in order to graduate, and it left a number of critical decisions in the hands of the department. At the same time, school districts were concerned they would be mandated to do more things without additional resources.

“I don’t know who in my local school district has the time to pull this all together,” said Rep. Pat Sutherland, D-Chapman, the House chair of the Education Committee, during a work session on the bill earlier in the week.

Sutherland also was concerned about the department’s push to adopt a standards-based diploma versus a credit-based one – making Maine the first state to do so.

“If we become the first state in the country to do this, how does it work?” Sutherland asked.

Others questioned the lack of clear requirements in the current system and in the bill.

“I do think it’s time to develop a true assessment system,” said Sen. Carol Weston, R-Waldo, who talked about the frustration in the field over the disconnect between the state’s Learning Results and what students are tested on throughout the year.


Rubric work

Education Commissioner Susan Gendron said she wants to continue working on rubrics, or scoring guides, to help teachers determine if students are learning what they’re supposed to be under the Learning Results parameters.

Those parameters outline learning goals in eight content areas, including English, Mathematics, Science and Technology, Social Studies, Visual and Performing Arts, World Languages, Physical and Health Education, and Career and Education Development.

The commissioner told the committee earlier in the week that she has a $700,000 contract with The Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC), based in Alaska, and Robert Marzano of the Marzano Research Laboratory in Indiana, to help do the work. The $700,000 is coming from Title 6 federal funds, she said.

The committee appeared divided on whether the commissioner should move ahead with the development of rubrics.

“I say go for it,” said Rep. Richard Wagner, D-Lewiston, adding work needs to continue in the interim.

Rep. Ed Finch, D- Fairfield, said not so fast.

“I don’t approve the direction,” the commissioner is heading, he said.


Pathways and interventions

The committee did unanimously agree on two issues – adding alternative ways for students to get a diploma and supporting early interventions, from kindergarten through grade 12, to help students, who are falling behind in their coursework.

The need to define multiple pathways to graduation grew out of a frustration with current law that blocks  students in Career and Technical Education from earning needed credits in their CTE program.

The proposal goes further than CTE, saying those pathways could include, but were not limited to: CTE; alternative education programs; apprenticeships; career academies; advanced placement; online courses; adult education; dual enrollment; and gifted and talented programs.

The committee also endorsed early interventions or the Response to Intervention (RTI) system, which is required by federal law, but not fully implemented in Maine.

The coalition of Maine’s education associations testified that RTI is a critical piece to any graduation requirement system because these interventions are designed to assure students get the help they need before entering high school.


New group formed

The committee also charged the five education associations and department to work “in good faith” to come up with a graduation requirement proposal that would work for Maine’s students, citizens and schools.

“Forming a stakeholders group without the right people in the room won’t work,” said Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Cumberland, the Senate chair of the committee. “If the department just runs by themselves, were dead..and vice versa.”

The new group’s charge, as adopted by the Education Committee, is:

  • The Commissioner and educational partners -- including, but not limited to MSSA, MSBA, MPA, MEA, MADSEC and other interested entities -- shall work together, in good faith, to develop a plan and requirements for awarding a high school diploma, including a standards-based diploma, a credit-based diploma or a diploma awarded based on a combination of standards and credits 
  • The Commissioner and educational partners shall report back to the Education Committee in January 2010
  • The Education Committee has the authority to report out legislation related to the report to the 2nd Regular Session of the 124th Legislature.