Scarborough schools want time to change grad requirements

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SCARBOROUGH — The School Department received the green light to apply for an extension in meeting the proficiency-based diploma requirements recently set by the state.

Beginning in 2017, all high school students must demonstrate proficiency in order to graduate. The need to define “proficiency” and decide how to demonstrate it makes a two-year extension necessary, the School Board was told at an Oct. 2 meeting.

“We want to get this right,” said Monique Culbertson, the department’s director of curriculum and assessment.

Included in the application was information about the schools’ current strengths and weaknesses and a 24-month implementation plan.

Culbertson said that, although the state requirement only applies to high school students, changes will need to occur at every grade.

Culbertson explained some of the specifics of the new state requirement. Under the new law, students must demonstrate proficiency in math, science, English, fine arts, foreign languages and physical education.

Students will be allowed multiple ways to demonstrate their readiness to graduate, and classes will not be age-based. Instead, they will be based on skill sets, and students will progress as they demonstrate mastery. That will allow students who are struggling more time to receive extra help.

In essence, schools will be “less neat,” Culbertson said. Classrooms may no longer be filled with 25 kids of a similar age, although she added that most children develop at a similar rate. It’s unlikely, for example, that a 9-year-old will attend class with a 16-year-old.

Board member Caiazzo asked how the gaps between students’ maturity levels will be addressed.

“It’s the responsibility of the classroom teachers to make an inclusive environment for all students,” Culbertson said, “and to craft instruction for each individual child.”

Caiazzo also asked whether two years was going to be enough time to complete such a complex undertaking. Culbertson said that while more time might be necessary, the statute does not allow for longer extensions.

Grades will not become a thing of the past, although they might deviate from the traditional A-F letter system. Several board members expressed concerns about this change’s effect on student transcripts and college applications. Culbertson said that was a concern, but that colleges are skilled at sifting through a variety of transcript models.

She said that while details for grading have not been finalized, communicating progress to students and their parents will remain a prominent focus during the revamping.

School officials are now visiting model schools to see what practices are most effective. After examining high-performing schools, Culbertson said, the department will “pick and choose practices that will help us on our journey.”

Kristen Murray, a student representative, was concerned that students might simply memorize material in order to demonstrate their proficiency and advance. Whether or not a student truly understands concepts is a difficult thing to measure, she said.

Culbertson said that applications of knowledge would likely be the true test, but that the department is going to develop rigorous and strict guidelines for proficiency demonstration.

Superintendent Dr. George H. Entwistle III asked whether, if the law were to be repealed, Scarborough would continue to pursue progress in the same way.

Culbertson stopped for a moment, thinking.

“No,” she answered honestly. “But we’re as prepared as any school district … perhaps better prepared.”

Lily O’Gara can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or logara@theforecaster.net. Follow Lily on Twitter: @lilyog28.

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