Education Committee to Take Up Repeal of Proficiency-Based Diplomas... Again
This Wednesday (April 17), the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs will hear testimony once again on repealing Proficiency-based Diplomas. I submitted written testimony as I will not be able to attend the hearing in person. Read my full testimony below.
To the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee
Testimony in Opposition of LD 985: An Act to Maintain High School Diploma Standards by Repealing Proficiency-Based Diploma Standards
April 17, 2019
Senator Millett, Representative Kornfield, and distinguished members of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. My name is Matthew Drewette-Card. I am an educator of more than twenty years in the profession; have taught pre-kindergarten, elementary, middle, high, and graduate school. I have a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Oregon. I am the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for MSAD #46; a school board member for MSAD #75; the President-Elect for Maine ASCD; a Future Ready mentor; a co-host of a podcast, “Maine Education Matters,” that focuses primarily on explaining to educators across Maine what is happening at the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs; a parent of two children in the public school system, and a resident of Topsham. I have dedicated my life to education. I study, practice, live and breathe teaching, learning, and assessment. I am providing testimony in opposition to LD 985, the latest attempt to repeal the proficiency based diploma law, and am only testifying on behalf of myself as a citizen, parent and lifelong learner and educator, not as a representative of any organization to which I am affiliated.
You will hear plenty of testimony that will focus on areas that have nothing to do with the diploma law, but have more to do with instructional and assessment practices. 4-point scales (nothing to do with proficiency-based diplomas), and how those scales cannot be converted for scholarships or colleges (outright falsehoods, and again, nothing to do with the diploma law); how proficiency-based learning practices have led to student apathy (apathy and engagement are discussions about instructional practice, classroom management, and learning environment, and have nothing to do with the diploma law expectations); or various other Chicken Little stories that proficiency-based diplomas are causing the sky to fall. I ask you to ignore those red herrings. They have nothing to do with the law, and have everything to do with instructional practice. Leave instructional practices to the educators and professionals in the field, and do not go down the road to micromanage from Augusta how educators create learning environments. This conversation and debate is NOT about grades, report cards, transcripts, scholarships, class rank, valedictorian, honor roll, or student motivation and engagement. The conversation IS about the outcome of our K-12 system: the diploma and the law that supports it.
The Proficiency-Based Diploma Law has been in place for nearly seven years, and has been changed four times in six years. The first iteration in 2012 gave the districts five years to complete (2017). The bill was not funded, as was mandated in the original statute, so in 2013 the law changed so that the original end date was kicked back from 2017 to 2018 to give time to build in funding. In 2016 the law was changed to adjust the diploma due dates again (from 2018 to 2020), and created a tiered rollout system that, while well intentioned, made little to no sense. The law stipulated that in the first year of granting proficiency-based diplomas, only the areas of English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science were to be measured for a proficiency-based diploma. Every year after that, the students had to demonstrate proficiency in those four areas, and one content area of their choosing. This structure was primarily designed to support districts struggling to support students meeting proficiency in content areas like World Languages. However, if students chose World Languages as their fifth content area, then the school district would be required to meet that need, thereby not giving the districts the time desperately needed. The confusion you are now feeling reading/hearing this is the same educators have felt across the state; not because of the law itself, but because of the changes that kept shifting expectations mid-stream. In 2017 the law was changed again to include language regarding Career and Technical Education learners, and also changed the landscape for students with exceptionalities. Both changes added confusion and frustration across the state.
The debate in 2018 was focused on full repeal of proficiency-based diplomas (LD 1666), and the testimony of educational professionals across Maine was overwhelmingly opposed to repealing the proficiency-based diploma law. During the work session for LD 1666, the language was completely changed to make two diploma options for districts; they could choose a proficiency-based pathway, or a credit-based pathway. yet the Committee decided to work to find middle ground and compromise with those opposed to proficiency-based diplomas. Thus, in June 2018, LD 1666 was signed into law, and the proficiency-based diploma law was changed... again. This change led some to believe that the full repeal had taken place; others believed that this decision was an indication of the abject failure of proficiency-based learning across the state. Neither of those beliefs are accurate nor true, yet with the amount of systemic changes that have taken place over the last seven years, how can anyone be blamed for misunderstanding what happened?
My question to the distinguished members of the committee is simple: how can you expect the educators in the field to do the work you ask us to do, when you (1) do not give us the adequate time to do it, (2) do not give us the stable environment in which to work within, (3) do not give us the adequate funding to do it (the funding mechanism to support the proficiency-based diplomas was 1/10th of 1% of the district’s budget, and was cut from the law several years ago), and (4) do not require the Department of Education to fully back and support its initiatives (proficiency-based diplomas was one of the biggest and most ambitious educational reforms in decades, and only one person was overseeing this at the Department for the whole state... only one)? Also, if every year the law changes, why would districts “buy-in” to any of the changes, knowing that the next year the law is likely to change again? Why would schools and educators put in the time to try and innovate, when every year or two the expectations shift? How can districts, schools and educators be expected to work and function and improve in this environment? Simple answer: they cannot.
Many of the arguments for creating a dual-diploma system (credit-based and proficiency-based) were that it would allow districts local control to choose the direction they wanted to go in. Many of the people sponsoring this bill made those same arguments last session. So, why has the attitude toward local control and decision-making changed for this session? If you trust educators; if you believe in local control and decision-making; then my plea to you is simple: enough already. Let us do our jobs. Let us show you how amazing education can be and become. Maine is already the beacon of education innovation across the nation, and legislation like this dims that beacon. Stop changing the end goal every year. Stop attacking this issue. This committee worked to make the diplomas a local option. Support local control and let us make these decisions for ourselves. Let us do the work. Let us take the lead. Let us show you how we can innovate. Stop changing the outcome expectations. Stop moving the goal post. Enough already. We deserve that much, at the very, very least.