2014-12-12 / Front Page

Graduation requirements change for 2019

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Following adoption by the school board on Monday of new graduation requirements at South Portland High School, the class of 2019 — next year’s incoming freshmen — will have a whole new set of expectations.

The new rules ditch the old credit system for class requirements, referring instead to “educational experiences” students must engage in each year.

In a practical sense, however, the biggest changes students will notice is an increased math requirement. Currently, students are required to take a math class in only three of their four years at the high school, which can include a single math course split over two years. Starting next fall, all students will have to take four years of mathematics.

“This will get students closer to the algebra needed to go off to college,” said Assistant Superintendent Kathy Germani.

Students also will be allowed to follow “multiple pathways to proficiency,” she said. Under that revision, students will be able to earn course credit for internships, independent study and other educational opportunities pursued outside of school.

“We really are excited about this policy because it opens up a lot of avenues for kids who might not be real traditional students,” Germani said. “It’s not about the seat time at the school in order to be able to show that your proficient in a subject area, it’s about being able to do other things and follow a passion.”

“What we’re saying is, have you show that you have the ability to do it, not, did you learn to do it the same way I did 30 years ago,” said school board member Rick Carter, who is chairman of the policy committee. “We want to make sure that a student who is a successful learner gets credit for that learning, whether or not it takes place in the classroom.”

However, one pathway that is closed to earning a degree is home schooling. Home schooled students will still be required to attend at least two years, or four semesters, at South Portland High School before being awarded a degree.

“One of the things you want to hold sacred is your high school diploma, that it means something and stands for a certain level of education,” said Superintendent Suzane Godin. “That’s what that [requirement is] meant to ensure, that a high school diploma is not just given out to anybody and that there’s some integrity behind it.”

The change in graduation requirements is driven, in part, by a 2012 change in state law that made Maine one of six states to use a “proficiency-based” system of education. That law required all school systems to switch from the traditional system that allowed a diploma once they’d racked up enough credits for earning passing grades in various classes, to one in which they must demonstrate they’ve mastered the state’s knowledge and learning standards.

The change was to have been in place for the class of 2017. However, 95 of 99 Maine high schools, including South Portland, have filed with the state for an extension. While South Portland now has its graduation requirements in place for the class of 2019 — it’s still working on exactly what its proficiency-based system will look like — Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough are on track for compliance with the class of 2020.

Godin said the new system is designed to produce graduates who have not merely memorized a certain amount of data and mastered certain skills, but are trained to be “critical thinkers,” able to adapt to changing workplace environments.

“The top 10 most sought-after jobs did not exist in 2004,” she said. “We are educating students for jobs that do not yet exist and that are using technologies that have not yet been invented.”

Get informed

The South Portland School Department will conduct two public forums, at dates to be determined, on the new proficiencybased learning model. This winter will bring a presentation on what the new report cards will look like, while a gathering in the early spring will focus specifically on how the system will be used at the high school level.

For more information, including forum dates, contact the central office at 871- 0555.

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