New Study Outlines Competency Education in Maine


By Jesse Moyer

As part of the legislation mandating proficiency-based diplomas in Maine, the state’s legislature requested that the Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) at the University of Southern Maine report on the preliminary implementation of proficiency-based learning across the state (for the purpose of this post, I will use the term proficiency-based instead of competency-based since it is the accepted term in Maine). MEPRI chose nine schools from across the state representing various school sizes, locations, grade configurations, and length of implementation using case studies, surveys, and observations to inform the report.

The report, titled “Preliminary Implications of Maine’s Proficiency-based Diploma Program,” identifies the following impacts of proficiency-based learning across the state:

  • More than 75% of schools report seeing some or substantial improvement in student engagement since the beginning of implementation
  • The same can be said for teacher engagement and performance on local assessments
  • Very little data exists on students being better prepared for, aspiring to, or enrolling in higher education

In addition the report provided the following recommendations as implementation continues:

  • Discuss, debate, and resolve the issues of different standards across districts
  • Develop regional consortia to work on implementation
  • Facilitate opportunities for differentiated professional development supporting proficiency-based education
  • Develop a learning management system that enables proficiency-based education

Overall, it seems as if implementation is going well. After reading the report, here are my top-level thoughts:

  • Serious consideration must be given to which level of the system the standards, to which everything else is aligned, should be created. Should it be the state? That could alienate districts. Should it be the districts? That means there are as many sets of standards in a state as there are districts. I tend to think it should be the state, with heavy input from districts, so a high school diploma means the same from district to district. That said, I don’t claim to have the answer to this question.
  • In order to successfully implement proficiency-based, you have to create the structures to support a new system while also supporting the change in classroom practice through professional development, new policies, etc. If you don’t support the change in practice, the system will fundamentally stay the same regardless of the structures.
  • Further, you must change the role of the teacher in a proficiency-based system. Without doing this, teachers will become overwhelmed and revert back to whole-class, direct instruction which is no different than what is happening now. In order to change the role of the teacher from lecturer to a “learning facilitator,” you have to count on others to offer direct instruction, i.e. community members, work-based mentors, etc.

Overall, I thought the report provided a very interesting snapshot of implementation in Maine. MEPRI conducted a Phase II district-level analysis of implementation that I haven’t had a chance to read yet. But, rest assured, when I do, I will be sharing my thoughts here!