STATE HOUSE

May 19, 2012

Maine education bills gain final passage

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Several education bills gained final legislative approval Wednesday and Thursday as lawmakers wrapped up their work for the session.

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Perhaps the most far-reaching is L.D. 1422, which changes high school diploma requirements as the first step in moving all schools to the proficiency-based education model promoted by the Maine Department of Education.

Other bills that had been awaiting funding before passing this week address bullying, career and technical education standards, National Board Certification for teachers and commissioning a review of the state's funding formula for schools.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen praised the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee's work in handling several significant proposals during this Legislature.

"We've got a lot of policy pieces done, and now we've got to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work," Bowen said.

Although the new diploma standards won't go into effect until 2017, and there's a waiver provision until 2020, school districts will need to start working on proficiency-based diplomas well before then.

"The idea is that under the bill, this year's seventh-graders would be that first class of kids that would have to demonstrate that they've met the learning results in order to graduate," Bowen said. "That means that if I'm a high school, I'm going to have that group of kids soon."

In a proficiency-based system, high school would not necessarily last four years. Schools will need to break the Maine Learning Results standards down into specific topics and skills on which students must demonstrate proficiency before they can advance.

To earn a proficiency-based diploma, students will have to show mastery of every topic or skill before graduating.

Several schools in Maine already offer proficiency-based diplomas or are implementing them, and the Department of Education's role is to share what those schools have learned and the resources they have developed, Bowen said.

Schools must devise ways to assess proficiency and track students' advancement as they move at different paces. Some may adopt a numerical grading scale or cease using age-based grades, but those changes are not mandated by L.D. 1422.

The department will monitor the progress of implementation around the state to identify areas where its staff can help and whether timelines must be adjusted. "It's going to be an evolving project, but the important part is that the public policy goal of the state is to have that proficiency-based diploma in place," Bowen said.

Two of the bills passed this week deal with career and technical education. One, L.D. 1779, requires those educational programs to prepare students to meet national industry standards. The other, L.D. 1865, requires regional career and technical education centers to coordinate with the local school districts they serve so their calendars will differ by no more than five days, which is a reduction from nine days that differ.

Many school districts that already have adopted calendars for next year did so with the bill in mind, Bowen said.

A bill restructuring the state's incentives for National Board Certification also received final passage on Thursday.

Maine first established a salary supplement in 2006 for receiving certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It's a prestigious credential that requires a significant investment of time, fees and work for teachers to analyze and improve their practices.

The salary supplement started at $3,000 annually for the life of the certificate, but over time less money was available from the state, and more teachers became eligible, reducing the payments, said Rob Walker, executive director of the Maine Education Association.

"We were trying to reverse that trend," Walker said. "If you want to attract the brightest and the best -- and National Board Certification is one way to do it -- you've got to make the incentive worthwhile."

L.D. 1871 sets the salary supplement at $2,500 next year, $2,750 the following year and $3,000 in 2014-15 and succeeding years. It also establishes a scholarship fund for teachers seeking certification.

The cost is estimated at $900,000 over three years.

Susan McMillan -- 621-5645

smcmillan@mainetoday.com

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