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High School introducing proficiency-based education in increments

Cape Elizabeth High School is introducing proficiency-based education - a system of student assessment based on demonstrated proficiency - one step at a time.

"The shifts are going to be, and are planned to be, quite incremental in steps and grounded in traditional practices that people will recognize very easily," Principal Jeff Shedd said at the Sept. 12, 2017 meeting of the School Board.

In preparation for the state's mandate to award proficiency-based diplomas beginning with this year's freshman class, Cape High has implemented two changes that affect all students. One replaces quarterly grading periods with six "checkpoints" on a running tally of a student's grades over the length of a course. The other introduces a separate measure of student effort, "habits of work," specifically gauging whether a student completes work on time; and whether he or she shows up for appointed help sessions.

The idea that grades should reflect the extent to which students meet learning goals seems "commonsensical," Shedd said, but it hasn't always been the practice. "Because teachers always, for very good reason, have blended in ... things like class participation or extra credit assignments, or - even though we didn't call it at the time 'habits of work' - whether work was done on time ... that sort of thing. And different teachers had different approaches to that," he said.

While some of the state's high schools have implemented subjective habits-of-work standards such as citizenship, Cape is starting with two standards that can be more objectively measured, said School Board member Barbara Powers.

The Class of 2021 will be the first to receive proficiency diplomas, but the grading changes apply to all High School students this year because many classes are mixed by grade level, Shedd said in a letter to families in August.

Student privileges are also affected by habits-of-work grades, and the School Board spent a good part of their Sept. 12 meeting updating policies to accommodate the new proficiency standards. High School student representatives said there was some confusion among students about the new standards, but agreed to communicate to their peers some of the explanations they'd heard at the meeting. [see related story].

The board is expected to talk more about the transition to proficiency-based education at an upcoming workshop, and meetings have been held at the High School to help parents understand the changes.

"We've done a lot of communication, we have further communications specifically scheduled. We definitely will do more for students," Shedd said. "Change is hard, it requires lots of communication. The communication is critical and we will do it."