Maine's New Learning System: PBL Part 1

LINCOLN, Maine (WABI) - In 2012, a law was passed to require high schools to grant diplomas based not on standardized grades, but rather on proficiency.

The state mandated that all schools issue proficiency-based diplomas by 2021.

Since put into place, proficiency-based learning, or PBL, has been under scrutiny.

Some Maine high schools are already handing out proficiency based diplomas and another handful are expected to issue them next month.

But, this new experimental education model has received a lot of push back in recent months from parents and students. It's even raising concerns among educators right here in our own backyard.

"You learn as you go, and we change something and do something, and it does well, but other times we see we have to change this,” says Mattanawcook Academy Art Teacher, Holly Leighton.

Many Maine schools have done a lot of trial and error in recent years.

That's because state lawmakers passed a law in 2012 that requires high schools to grant diplomas based on proficiency, getting away from a one to one hundred grading system.

"For so long we were focused on grades, grades, grades, grades,” says Mattanawcook Academy Social Studies teacher, Aaron Ward. “Now, I think the focus has shifted to learning, and really proficiency is about learning. But, we still have a culture and a system that is really driven by grades.

To graduate, students must show that they are 'proficient' in eight subject areas.

The Maine Department of Education defines proficiency as "any system of academic instruction, assessment, grading, and reporting that is based on students demonstrating mastery of the knowledge and skills expected to learn before they progress to the next lesson."

Supporters of PBL say it provides clear expectations to students and teachers.

"It allows students to be able to kind of learn at their own pace, not everybody is learning the same thing at the same time and they teach proficiency that way,” explains Leighton.

Since Proficiency-Based Education was introduced six years ago, now students and teachers are trying to bridge the gap between the classroom and Augusta.

"The last three or four years, it's been all over the place in terms of where we are going as far as the state level. I feel like our school has done a good job of building understanding, you know at the teacher level,” says Mattanawcook Academy Junior, Natalie McCarthy.

Some schools in the state will be granting proficiency-based diplomas this year, others are further behind.

Staff at Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln say they are still transitioning to the new standards.

How school districts administer those standards is up to each district.

"The things that teachers have been doing for years, that's still usable, and still great,” says Ward. “But, really what has changed is the structures in the classroom and how you go about a day to day, and it's really about customizing learners and meeting them where they're at."

Some students say the key factor with finding success in the new system is having the motivation to get the work done. But, those that don't, may very well slip through the cracks.

"It's a lot different than having the 1 through 100 because you make more of an effort I feel like with the 1 through 100 because you have to pass the first time,” says Mattanawcook Academy Senior, Lindsey Gelfuso.

"I think any system that you have within education, it's all about what you put into it, so it's all about motivation and dedication,” says McCarthy. “If you want to get the four and go above and beyond the three, you have to put in the extra work, and you have to put in the time."

Teachers say for students who struggle- or miss a significant number of days due to illness or a family emergency, this system allows them to pick up where they left off.

But, some opponents of the new system say that isn't preparing students for college or the working world.

Coming up Thursday on TV5 news, we'll take a look at some of the challenges colleges are facing because of this transition.