I’m still processing, so bear with me should my train of thought derail. I wanted to write while things are still fresh in my head.
I spent the day at the Maine School Management Association’s 40th Annual Fall Conference. I’m a school board member in my hometown, so I got to go.
The first “clinic” I attended was called “Proficiency Diploma and Special Education.” This is one of the main reasons I joined the school board – to give voice to the voiceless. I learned something. According to Maine Law, title 20-A, section 4722-A, as set forth in Chapter 131, the expectation for a student to receive a diploma, with a graduation date after Jan 1, 2018, is that “ALL students will meet ALL standards in ALL content areas.”
This is pursuant Maine’s LD 1422: proficiency-based diploma law.
Some early predictions are that up to 40% of general education students WILL NOT receive diplomas in the spring of 2018. I repeat, 40% of GENERAL EDUCATION kids will likely NOT graduate with diplomas. These are the “normal kids.”
What about our special needs kids down in the Special Ed room? What about the kids with IEPs? No difference. The law allows for modifications to the way kids with IEPs prove they’ve met the criteria, but the criteria must be met. To quote my handout, as issued by the Maine DOE (which I hope is citation enough), says “an IEP may modify the means by which a student with a disability demonstrates proficiency in the standards, but the IEP does not modify the standards themselves. The standards and established proficiency levels will be held constant for all students in the awarding of a diploma.”
Can’t these kids just get a Certificate of Attendance, or other parting gift? That’s up to the local school units to decide on their own. When asked about their legality, the Assistant to the Attorney General offered no comment. She said she couldn’t speak to that issue. Members of the audience expressed their concern that Wal*Mart and McDonalds, to name only a few companies, don’t accept “certificates of attendance.” So, in 4 more years, we are potentially faced with hundreds of Maine seniors “graduating” high school, who are unemployable.
Why can’t everybody just work harder? Good question. However, if my career path is to be a welder, do I really need to prove myself proficient in biology? What if I’m incapable of proving myself proficient in anything, but might make an excellent stock boy at a grocery store, or overnight janitor for an office? I don’t know what Jake’s capable of, but without a diploma, is he even employable?
The DOE’s answer to this? Access to the standards of the Gen. Ed class. If your 14 year old reads at a 7 year old level, he’s still expected to reach the standards of his 8th grade peers. It’s up to the IEP to match the level with the standard. For example, if an 8th grade standard is to correctly identify the theme/plot in an 8th grade book, the IEP may re-write the standard to allow that child to identify the theme/plot in a 2nd grade book.
My son, Jacob, is starting to really struggle in 6th grade math, as it becomes more abstract and algebraic. How are we going to modify 9th grade geometry standards to give him hope, with his 4th grade math skills? I don’t see it happening. Maybe I’m tired; maybe I’m feeling pessimistic; or maybe I’m just being realistic.
One audience member pointed out that it was up to the local entities to decide what qualifies at “proficiency” with each standard. Why can’t we, he asked, set the proficiency level at 20% and keep graduating everyone? You could, was the response, but if you’re graduating 95% of your seniors, and your state-mandated standardized test scores show that only 20% of your kids are proficient, the state will be knocking at your door and asking ‘what’s up?’
If I’ve got this all wrong, please comment down below and let me know. If you’ve got a great solution, please share. I’m scared and overwhelmed not only as “one vote” in the sea that is the system, but also as the parent of a kid who at least deserves a chance at a job, and all that comes with it. Imagine the burden on the state when up to 40% of each successive high school senior leaves school unable to enter the workforce. Gives me the creeps.