Maine’s New Learning System: PBL Part 2

ORONO, Maine (WABI) - In 2021, high school students here in Maine will graduate with a new type of diploma - providing they show proficiency in eight different areas.

PBL or Proficiency Based Learning became law in 2012.

But, this change has many students and their parents concerned as to how this could affect them when applying for colleges.

This year’s ninth grade class is scheduled to be the first to graduate with PBL diplomas.

However, since PBL was put into law, the model has been put under a microscope by students, teachers, and parents for being incomprehensible.

Some argue it also puts high school seniors at a disadvantage when applying to post-secondary schools.

We visited teachers and students at one local high school and officials in admissions at the University of Maine to see how this law will affect them going forward.

"Yes, this may be different and it may be kind of a culture shock, but if you want to learn you'll learn,” says Mattanawcook Academy Junior, Natalie McCarthy.

Motivation to learn. That’s what teachers are focusing on in their classrooms since Maine’s experimental education model was put into place.

As schools continue to make the transition to proficiency standards, some say the model is putting students at a disadvantage, especially high school seniors that are looking into post-secondary education.

"It's a little surprising to see how different Maine, our own backyard, I mean you can go within 30 miles of this campus and find a dozen schools that are doing this differently.”

Christopher Richards serves as the Director of Recruitment at the University of Maine in Orono.

More than 14,000 applications from all over the globe are sent to his office every year - along with varying transcripts.

He says the implementation of PBL has been challenging for schools, because he feels there hasn't been enough direction from the state.

"The tough thing forcing compliance with this is if they get a quick band-aid solution to comply, that's when the potential disservice to students happen,” explains Richards.

All major colleges and state universities use the traditional 1-100 or letter grading scale.

Maine students who are hoping to attend an institution out of state could be affected when applying if the school has to go through a lengthy research process to decipher what is on the student's transcript.

Richards says it is important for schools to create profiles for students that allow for better understanding of proficiency-based transcripts.

"As an institution you make a decision on, is the student capable of the work and do they meet entrance requirements, and have a chance at being successful? That's really what admission criteria are, and a transcript is really nothing more than a document that explains what a student's done and how they've performed,” says Richards.

Admission requirements vary between institutions and degree programs. However, schools like the University of Maine look at three key areas when admitting a student: grade point average, courses taken in high school, and standardized test scores.

Richards says he does have some concerns as far as grading when it comes to proficiency, as some schools record it differently.

"Maybe they meet proficiency in Geometry, or whatever it may be. Okay, that's great. But, if they didn't meet proficiency in Algebra 2 they probably won't get admitted,” explains Richards. “So, does a student "graduate," as they may not meet admission criteria?"

Richards says the admissions office is expecting the number of proficiency-based transcripts to increase in the coming years as more high schools make the transition.

He says many schools have been proactive in contacting his office about proposed changes in transcripts, and asking for more information.

He offers this simple suggestion for parents.
"Schools are looking for you to offer input and voice your concerns, and help shape the way things comes out,” says Richards.
The state legislature's education committee is expected to take up the law again in the next session.

They will discuss whether to change the law, delay it, or drop it altogether.

"Whatever the decision is, I hope they allow schools the freedom to, I think that is something that is being discussed is allowing students the freedom to go in kind of whatever direction they want to go, and I hope whatever they come up with, it's clear,” says Mattanawcook Academy Social Studies teacher, Aaron Ward.

Richards was very clear that if you have an questions or concerns about the admission process with PBL, don't hesitate to contact your student's guidance office.