Proficiency-Based Education

Excerpted from Report to Board by Curriculum Coordinator Nancy Harriman, May 2015

Proficiency-based Diplomas, What now?

Politics are alive and thriving in the Maine Capitol. This is the way a democracy works. However, most conversations I’ve had suggest the press coverage of the many bills concerning education this session has left many people feeling more confused than ever about testing, standards, and “proficiency-based diplomas.” In what ways will legislative discussion and action affect plans in our district?

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the Maine Curriculum Leaders’ spring conference in Freeport with a team of four learning leaders and the principal from MCHS to consider this question. The theme of the conference was PRACTICAL PROFICIENCY: Using what we’ve learned. It was facilitated by Dr. David Wayne, Assoc. Dean of Planning, Assessment and Innovation, College of Osteopathic Medicine, University of New England. During the day we had an opportunity to participate in reflections on what “proficiency” means, hear about actions other districts have taken to develop and implement proficiency-based systems, and consider the human factors in leading initiatives for change. Our team members appreciated the rare opportunity to discuss our vision, accomplishments, and goals. They found it helpful to hear other educators’ views and struggles with the process and to be reminded by Dr. Wayne to appreciate the talents and differences we all bring to the process.

The previous Friday, I accompanied a different team of high school teachers, the high school principal, and K-12 math coach to a Proficiency Forum cosponsored by the Windham Raymond School District & JumpRope, our proficiency-based student information system company. On that day we paired up and attended sessions led by educators from at least four different districts on topics including defining priority standards, individualizing instruction within a standards-based system, tracking student progress in allied arts, implementing standards-based mathematics, and parent involvement. We had lively lunchtime discussions about the pros and cons of different approaches. Overall, we felt validated in terms of our accomplishments, and relieved that we had not “rushed ahead” further, faster in response to the DOE mandate. Seeing specific examples from the classroom of other district’s procedures and monitoring of students’ progress prompted questions about how we could build a more robust yet streamlined process.


  1. Our district’s Model of Instruction (attached) is standards-based, dynamic (we can adjust to changes in context, like legislative requirements, if needed) and first and foremost responsive to the instructional needs of current students. This model should continue to guide our work, K-12.
  2. The standards-based curriculum development work we’ve initiated is gaining momentum and benefitting students. As one high school teacher said, Minds have been pried open and we are aware of the direction we need to go. Our content-based curriculum work should continue, as part of the RSU #38 Strategic Plan, regardless of what transpires in the realm of “proficiency-based diplomas.”
  3. The time crunch pressure to implement a standards-based diploma system tomorrow – or face sanctions by the state – is not the driving force behind our work. We should take time to integrate the parts of our plan, and ensure all understand our plan, as we prepare.
  4. Teachers meeting with teachers across grade spans is critical for coordination and most efficiently meeting students’ needs as we implement changes in curriculum and instruction concurrently, PreK-12.
  5. Standards-based grading is a part of the plan we need to plan for deliberately. It’s important to actively involve all stakeholders (teachers, board members, parents, students, and community members) in exploring the topic and developing a plan that will align with our curriculum and clearly communicate student progress.

Here are the PowerPoint and notes from our PBE Forum held on December 3, 2015.

PBE Forum PowerPoint.12.3.15


Here are the notes from our PBE Forum held on January 14, 2016.

PBE Timeline

PBE photo

Participants in the Community Forum on January 14th at MCHS  discussed changes in graduation requirements as Maranacook implements a proficiency based education system. An experienced Admissions Representative from the University of Maine, Nikolas Ray, answered questions about implications for college preparation and admissions. A third forum will be held in May on Proficiency Reports for 16-17.

Maranacook PBE Community Forum, Jan 14, 2016

PBE Jumprope Maranacook May 2016


PBE at MCHS 8th Grade Parent Night


Great Schools Partnership.   Proficiency-based Learning Simplified: A Great Schools Partnership Model.

Note: This site includes specific examples of standards-based grading systems, including a recorded explanation by an English teacher at Casco Bay High School in Portland Maine Department of Education called Understanding Grades in a Standards-Based System.

Understanding Grades in a Standards-Based System from EL Education on Vimeo.

Maine Proficiency Education Council (a Committee created by the Legislature to advise on effective implementation of the Proficiency-based Diploma law).

Maine Education Policy Research Institute, University of Southern Maine. (2013). Preliminary Implementation of Maine’s Proficiency‐based Diploma Program.

Note: This Report includes a copy of LD 1422 An Act To Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy (often referred to as the Proficiency-based Diploma law- which has been incorporated into Title 20-A) p. 51-53.  

For an overview of previous standards-based education laws and the context in which LD 1422 was enacted, see p 3-8.

Maine Revised Statutes Title 20-A …Proficiency-based Diploma Standards

Scruffiny, P. (2008). Seven Reasons for Standards-based Grading. Educational Leadership, 66(2), pp 74-77.