Education Evolving: Maine's Plan for Putting Learners First

Core Priority Area 1: Effective, Learner-Centered Instruction

  1. Rigorous standards and aligned curricula
  2. Learner-centered instructional practices
  3. Assessment systems that provide educators with timely, accurate information on learner achievement and growth
  4. Information systems that track learner growth over time

The core of the entire educational enterprise is the teaching and learning that happens in classrooms every day. All of the institutional elements that comprise our system of education - the buildings and busses, the administrative structures at the local, state and federal levels, the schools of education - are in place to support what researchers David Tyack and Larry Cuban call the “core” of schooling, those “daily interactions of teachers and students” where learning takes place.

Unfortunately, school reform proposals seldom focus on the specific instructional practices used on a daily basis by teachers in the classroom. In his 2000 white paper Building a New Structure for School Leadership, Harvard’s Richard Elmore describes the “sociology” of schools as being one of “loose-coupling.” While “relatively elaborate systems of administrative overhead at the school and district level” are thought necessary for the “adequate supervision” of classroom teachers, Elmore writes, the “technical core” of teaching - “the detailed decisions about what should be taught at any given time, how it should be taught, what students should be expected to learn at any given time, how they should be grouped within classrooms for the purposes of instruction, what they should be required to do to demonstrate their knowledge, and perhaps most importantly, how the learning should be evaluated” - is largely left to individual teachers themselves. In short, while school boards and school administrators manage the larger system, “teachers, working in isolated classrooms, under highly uncertain conditions, manage the technical core” of teaching and learning.

The result, Elmore argues, is that most of the innovation and improvement that does occur in schools tends to take place in “the structures that surround teaching and learning,” rather than directly impacting “the conditions of teaching and learning for actual teachers and students.” As a consequence, “manifestly successful instructional practices that grow out of research or exemplary practice never take root in more than a small proportion of classrooms and schools.”

This perhaps explains why, despite the determined effort of educators across Maine and the nation, the focus in recent years on improving student achievement in the tested subjects has had little discernable effect in terms of improving student outcomes. Meeting the learning needs of all students will require an unprecedented focus on the broad dissemination of those core instructional practices that result in effective teaching and learning.

This focus, in turn, requires a concentration on four elements that are key to effective instruction:

  • Rigorous standards and aligned curriculum - what students are taught
  • Learner-centered instructional practice - how students are taught
  • Assessment systems that provide timely, accurate data on achievement and growth - how student learning is measured
  • Information systems that track learner growth over time - how instructional practices are adjusted based on assessment data

In the pages that follow, each of these four elements is explored further, with goals, objectives, and action steps outlined for each.

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1. Rigorous standards and aligned curricula

The research is clear that high-performing education systems are built around rigorous standards for both content and performance. Maine’s Learning Results standards, first adopted in 1997, include content standards in eight areas, framed by an overarching set of Guiding Principles that describe the knowledge and skills believed necessary to prepare every student for college, careers and civic life. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in 2011, Maine joined 45 other states in embracing internationally benchmarked standards for learning in Math and English Language Arts. Maine is also set to take the lead in the development of next-generation science standards, and continues to participate in national efforts to develop and revise standards in all other content areas.

Rigorous learning standards are meaningless, however, unless they inform instructional practice at the classroom level. As Maine transitions to the Common Core State Standards, it is more important than ever that curricula and materials aligned with the state’s learning standards are made available to educators across Maine.

Goal: A variety of instructional materials aligned with the Maine Learning Results standards, which include the Common Core State Standards, are readily available to and support the instructional practices of Maine educators.

Objective: Fully implement the Common Core State Standards; provide Maine’s educators with access to a resource directory of curricula and resources for every content area and level of achievement aligned with the appropriate set of standards.

Action Steps:

Initial Action Steps

Progress on Action Steps

Response/Next Steps

1.1.a Learning Results implementation plan
Develop a detailed plan for the implementation of the Maine Learning Results, which includes targeted training and outreach efforts as well as expanded use of the DOE’s website as a resource for standards implementation.

The DOE has provided professional development opportunities for thousands of educators; has expanded the resources available on the DOE website; and has provided ongoing written communications to districts, including through the DOE Newsroom.

The DOE will provide ongoing technical support; continue trainings, adding resources to the Center for Best Practice; and expanding the DOE’s professional development calendar.

1.1.b Online Collaboration Platform (OCP)
Establish a state-level, online “Communities of Practice” collaboration platform for developing and vetting standards-aligned curricula and instructional materials, in collaboration with the state’s teachers and curriculum coordinators.

Launched a pilot for eight initial practice teams. Currently developing additional capabilities related to sharing digital learning resources, consistent with recommendations of digital learning task force.

The site needs to be expanded beyond the pilot and connected to school improvement efforts. The DOE will review in partnership with educators the OCP for effectiveness and to determine next steps.

1.1.c Regional centers
Develop and support regional centers to coordinate implementation of standards and aligned curricula.

The Department intended to provide financial support for development of regional centers and programs through the Fund for the Efficient Delivery of Educational Services (FEDES). Funding was attained, but swept to close a budget gap. The most recent enacted budget did not contain FEDES funding.

Despite the lack of FEDES funding, the DOE will continue to highlight regional efforts and will support, to the extent possible, development of new efforts.  The Department is also working to deliver services using a regional approach.

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2. Learner-centered instructional practices

No matter how well curricula and materials are aligned to learning standards, if instructional practices in the classroom fail to engage learners, those learners will still struggle to achieve. There are educators in classrooms across Maine who are pioneering instructional approaches that make learners active participants in and directors of their own learning. In such settings, learners have a meaningful role in planning learning activities and are allowed to choose the manner by which they demonstrate proficiency. Teachers provide learning opportunities and support the customized needs of each child.

Taking such practices to scale will require a renewed focus on teacher training and support, as well as a significant effort to make materials related to learner-centered instruction available to educators statewide. As Maine already has a cohort of school and district leaders pioneering this work, the Department’s role should be to support the ongoing work, and to make the lessons learned by these pioneering schools and districts more widely available.

Goal: Learner-centered instructional strategies are in place in all Maine classrooms.

Objective: Provide state support for existing district-level work in learner-centered instruction, and make materials and resources available to all Maine educators to support the proliferation of learner-centered instructional practices.

Action Steps:

Initial Action Steps

Progress on Action Steps

Response/Next Steps

1.2.a Learner-centered instruction team
Appoint a learner-centered instruction team to continue state support for districts already engaged in the development of learner-centered instructional practices and aid districts new to employing such practices.

A technical assistance plan and a learner-centered team were developed by the DOE pursuant to LD 1422 (PL 2011, Ch. 669).  The DOE also provided extensive implementation tools and funding. The Center for Best Practice features case studies, videos and resources for learner-centered instruction.

The learner-centered instruction team is being expanded to include all members of the standards and instruction team and others across the Department. Work to support School Administrative Units (SAUs) is ongoing, with a special focus on communications.

1.2.b Center for Best Practice
Develop a statewide “Center for Best Practice,” with a focus on learner-centered instruction, to serve as a clearinghouse of resources, support and case studies related to learner-centered instructional practices.

The Center for Best Practice was launched and now includes six detailed case studies, 10 videos, dozens of resources, best practices for and from Maine’s schools with a focus on learner-centered instruction.

Additional “best practices” content related to other school improvement approaches beyond proficiency-based learning will be posted to the site in an effort to expand its value and reach.

1.2.c Educator training and support
Collaborate with Maine teacher preparation programs to expand access to educator training and support related to learner-centered instruction.

DOE’s learner-centered team has met with teacher prep program leaders who are preparing to incorporate learner-centered instruction in their programs.

A more formal plan to collaborate with teacher prep programs, especially around learner centered professional development, will be developed once key staff positions are filled.

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3. Assessment systems that provide educators with timely, accurate information on learner achievement and growth

Accurately measuring the individual instructional needs of learners requires a thorough analysis of timely assessment data. Today, learners are assessed using a combination of state and local assessment instruments and a mix of teacher-developed classroom assessments. What is required is a set of modern assessment tools to provide teachers and administrators at both the Pre-K and K-12 levels the accurate data needed to make appropriate decisions regarding instructional practice. New assessment tools must assess higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, not simply rote memorization.

Maine is one of the states leading the development of the Smarter Balanced assessment system, which will ultimately not only replace the state standardized tests in place today, but also provide educators with formative assessment tools designed to inform instructional practice throughout the school year. Implementation of the Smarter Balanced assessment system, as well as assessment systems for those subject areas not included in Smarter Balanced, will require a significant statewide training and support effort.

Additionally, expanding access to high-quality, teacher-developed assessment tools could be greatly enhanced by the development of a statewide resource directory of such assessment tools, organized and indexed to the Learning Results and Common Core, and accompanied by associated lesson plans and learning materials.

Goal: All of Maine educators have access to modern, 21st-century assessment systems and use assessment information to inform instruction.

Objective: Successfully transition to the Smarter Balanced assessment system, and develop a state-level resource directory of teacher-developed assessment instruments aligned with the state’s Learning Results, which include the Common Core State Standards.

Action Steps:

Initial Action Steps

Progress on Action Steps

Response/Next Steps

1.3.a Assessment System
Develop a comprehensive plan for statewide implementation of a new assessment system.

Planning has been ongoing and the DOE has participated in all consortium meetings. Pilot tests were done last spring; the Department has communicated information about practice test to districts and has worked on developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for an assessment administrator.

Field tests will be done this spring. The DOE will issue the RFP for an assessment administrator.  Work with districts to provide technical assistance and training around accommodations and accessibility will be done.  

1.3.b Resource directory
Establish a state-level, online “Communities of Practice” collaboration platform for developing and vetting standards-aligned curricula and instructional materials, in collaboration with the state’s teachers and curriculum coordinators.

Launched a pilot for eight initial practice teams. Currently developing additional capabilities related to sharing digital learning resources, consistent with recommendations of digital learning task force.

The site needs to be expanded beyond the pilot and connected to school improvement efforts. The DOE will review in partnership with educators the OCP for effectiveness and to determine next steps.

1.3.c Regional centers
Create regional teacher development centers to coordinate regional training and support in the use of the assessment instruments.

The Department intended to provide financial support for development of regional centers and programs through the Fund for the Efficient Delivery of Educational Services (FEDES).  Funding was attained, but swept to close a budget gap.  The most recent enacted budget did not contain FEDES funding.

Despite the lack of FEDES funding, the DOE will continue to highlight regional efforts and will support, to the extent possible, development of new efforts.  The Department is also working to deliver services using a regional approach.

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4. Information systems that track learner growth over time

Students are assessed repeatedly throughout their academic careers, yet tracking student growth over time is complicated by the lack of a single data system into which assessment data from various state and district sources can be entered. Maine is in the process, however, of developing a Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS), which will be able to track individual student achievement over time, from Pre-K to higher education and the workforce. This will provide educators with invaluable data on student growth, and allow policymakers to measure the effectiveness of the various educational initiatives and programs a learner encounters throughout his or her educational career.

Once the system is in place, a significant effort must be made to ensure that teachers and school leaders know how to make the best use of the data the system provides. Efforts to train educators are already underway and must be expanded as the full deployment of the system draws nearer and more focus is placed on the use of data to inform instructional practices.

Ongoing support for this data system, which was developed with one-time federal grants, must be secured. The state should immediately begin work on a sustainability plan that identifies the ongoing costs to maintain and update the SLDS and makes recommendations for funding and support.

Goal: Maine’s educators have ready access to helpful data and regularly use it to tailor instruction and improve student outcomes.

Objective: Complete the deployment of the State Longitudinal Data System, expand data system training opportunities for educators statewide, and develop a sustainability plan for the system moving forward.

Action Steps:

Initial Action Steps

Progress on Action Steps

Response/Next Steps

1.4.a Statewide Longitudinal Data System
Develop a comprehensive Statewide Longitudinal Data System (Data Warehouse) implementation plan, which outlines the full deployment of the system and related training and support initiatives.
Develop a sustainability plan that calculates ongoing system costs and identifies potential sources for funding and support.

The Data Warehouse has gone live and training has been provided to thousands of people including educators, media, and public. The requirements outlined in grant have been completed. 

Training is ongoing. A sustainable funding and management plan for the system will be developed.

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