April 4, 2012

Maine education-reform bill fails House passage

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

A bill that requires a major overhaul of Maine schools failed House passage Wednesday following a spirited debate.

The legislation, L.D. 1422, is a key part of education reforms proposed by the LePage administration. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration, but it failed to get the two-thirds necessary in the House by a vote of 76-67. It needed 101 votes to pass.

The bill repeals high-school diploma requirements and instead requires students to show they've mastered a rigorous set of standards.

Students must show proficiency in every standard before they can graduate. It gives local districts the option to adopt numbered rather than letter grades and allows schools to do away with age-based grade levels entirely.

Supporters said Maine schools aren't serving students well and it's time for a change.

“People are not terribly happy that kids are promoted strictly on the basis of time spent in a seat,” said Rep. Richard Wagner, D-Lewiston. “It's just not right for students to be graduating without knowing how to add, how to subtract."

Opponents, both Democrats and Republicans, said the bill needs more time for consideration. They are hearing from parents and their communities that the requirements, which would not come with additional state funding, are unproven and work well in some districts, but not others.

“Before we force the entire state to do this, I have one single request,” said Rep. Maeghan Maloney, D-Augusta. “Show me it works.”

The legislation mandates that schools provide proficiency-based diplomas after Jan. 1, 2017, though there is a provision for schools to obtain waivers until 2020.

Under the new model students may repeat tests and assignments as often as necessary and students are also given more freedom to demonstrate knowledge of a skill, such as creating a video or presentation instead of writing a traditional essay.

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