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TO:        Superintendents of Schools (Please forward to Assistant Superintendents, Curriculum Coordinators, School Administrators, and Special Education Directors)

FROM:    Susan A. Gendron, Commissioner

DATE:     June 3, 2005

RE:        Follow-up details on mid-course adjustments to the implementation of Maine’s Learning Results

Key Points Covered in this Informational Letter:


This update is intended to keep school officials informed about the implications of recent actions taken by the Maine Legislature and to clarify the timeline for follow-up steps by the Department.   It is important to bear in mind the underlying purposes for the mid-course adjustments recently voted unanimously “Ought to Pass” by the Education Committee:   to provide increased flexibility for districts as they continue implementing the system of Learning Results; to provide increased support and accountability through a Department review and validation of each district’s implementation of the Learning Results; and to promote the development of coherent, connected standards-based systems.   My hope is that as we take further actions to add detail to the mid-course adjustments that these underlying purposes will be reinforced.

Timeline and significant proposed revisions to Chapters 125 and 127:

Once the full Legislature casts an affirmative vote on LD 1424, An Act to Simplify Implementation of the MaineLearning Results, work will begin immediately on related revisions to Chapters 125 and 127.  Since both Chapters 125 and 127 are major substantive rules, the process of public hearings will culminate in a final review and adoption by the Legislature in the second session beginning in January of 2006.

Chapter 125 revisions will include: 1) defining the district review and validation process and 2) defining the quality standards that will be used as a basis for the process.                       

Chapter 127 revisions will include: 1) defining the Learning Results Endorsement, 2) revising diploma requirements, 3) clarifying the revised timelines for graduation based on the Local Assessment System (LAS) (see link below for printable timeline grid), 4) adding specificity to the expectation that units will award a decreasing percentage of diplomas based on credits, 5) adding language on School Assistance consistent with the Department’s expanded commitment to both providing technical assistance to local districts and building a stronger framework for shared accountability for implementation of the system of Learning Results, 6) clarifying the basis for evaluating the academic achievement of transfer students, and 7) revising key aspects of the Local Assessment Systems including:

Learning Results Implementation Timeline

During the review by the Education Committee of the Learning Results Endorsement, it became clear that two primary options exist for its application:   a single Endorsement, signifying overall achievement of the content areas of the Learning Results pertinent at the graduation date, or a collection of endorsements for each of the content areas in which the student demonstrates successful achievement.   It is my intent in the immediate future to assemble a group of stakeholders to review the benefits of each approach.   Final guidance on this issue will be included in the revised printing of the LAS Guide. 

Details on the proposed Department of Education review and validation of school administrative unit implementation of the system of Learning Results as described in Comprehensive Education Plans and Local Assessment Systems:

A central tenet of the statutory changes included in LD 1424 is the expectation that the Commissioner will provide for the review, verification of current status, and eventual validation of each school administrative unit’s implementation of the system of Learning Results, as described in its Comprehensive Education Plan (CEP), and the district’s Local Assessment System (LAS).   The review and validation process is intended to achieve two goals simultaneously:   to allow units to build a comprehensive, standards-based system with greater flexibility, while providing at the same time for a greater degree of accountability for effective implementation.

To support this process, the Department will develop and disseminate to districts this summer a self-assessment tool built around key aspects of effective and comprehensive implementation of the system of Learning Results.  This self-assessment tool will be based largely on existing descriptions of effective systems of standards-based reform, and will provide for levels of development to support both self-assessment and planning for improvement.   If districts have engaged in evaluation or self-assessment processes, such as accreditation through NEASC, the review and validation process conducted by the Department will incorporate cross reference these to the greatest extent possible.

Beginning in the fall of 2005, each unit will complete a self-assessment, which will be followed by a visit to each district by a team composed of Department staff, educators from local units, and individuals representing other fields of expertise:   school leadership, Career and Technical Education, staff development, and high school reform to name just a few.   The final component of the review process will be to identify commendations, recommendations, and needs, as well as plans for technical assistance.   Based on recent press coverage of the Education Committee discussions, the Department has begun to receive requests for immediate technical assistance.   Our first priority at this time, however, is to develop the review and validation process and related tools.   Therefore, immediate requests for technical assistance by the Department must be considered in the light of our aggressive timeline for initiating the district-level review.

The Education Committee directed me to report back to them in January on the statewide findings on the status of implementation of the system of Learning Results, and Local Assessment Systems.   This report of our findings will include my recommendations for bridging any gaps that exist in the resources required for effective implementation of the statewide system. Richard Elmore’s “Principle of Reciprocity” continues to serve as the foundation for our efforts:   accountability and support must be present in equal measures to ensure that we develop a balanced and fair system.

Suggested considerations for district-level decision making regarding the Class of 2008 and beyond:

One of the most pressing needs at this time is to clarify the considerations that local districts must bear in mind in determining their own timeline for the awarding of diplomas with Learning Results Endorsements.   All units must begin to award diplomas with Learning Results Endorsements in English language arts and mathematics for the Class of 2010. Units may begin to award Learning Results Endorsements earlier than the Class of 2010 if 1) the unit’s Local Assessment System and, more importantly, its overall comprehensive system for the implementation of the Learning Results are prepared for this step, and 2) the unit’s Learning Results implementation as described in its Comprehensive Education Plan has been validated by the Department through the process outlined above.

Those districts wishing to move forward in advance of 2010 are advised to begin a review of the overall “health” of the interconnected aspects of an effective standards-based system (curriculum, instruction, professional development, student interventions, public understanding, student opportunities to learn, and data analysis systems) prior to making any firm commitments to students, parents, and staff.   During the recent testimony before the Education Committee, we heard of situations in which school administrative units were building their Local Assessment Systems with far more than the minimum number of assessments established by Department guidance.   An immediate need across all units is to be certain that the number of assessments per content area, per grade span does not dramatically exceed Department guidance.   It is of critical importance to balance assessment with other essential aspects of effective standards-based systems, and units must be certain that this effective balance exists locally prior to committing to a specific timeline for awarding Learning Results Endorsements.  The purpose of the extended timeline is to provide sufficient time and support for units to successfully build balanced systems that reflect sound educational policy.

That said, once an initial review is completed and district officials conclude that local systems will support the awarding of Learning Results Endorsements, parents and students could be informed of the district’s intent to move forward, to continue to build a body of evidence for students through the Local Assessment System that will be the basis for the awarding of diplomas in 2008 and 2009.   Once the review process is completed, and the district’s implementation of the Learning Results is validated, final commitments to students and parents can then be confirmed.              

Immediate actions recommended for Local Assessment System implementation:

While changes to Chapter 127, the LAS Guide, and Considering Consistency are underway, districts are advised to:

Implications for the LAS Guide and Considering Consistency:

MEDMS Local Assessment System Update:

The Department of Education is working with EDmin of San Diego to develop the MEDMS Local Assessment System module.  The EDmin INFORM system is currently being used in multiple states and will be modified to meet Maine’s requirements.  The development of the system is in the final stages and deployment to the field will begin this summer for entering LAS results.   A group of school administrative units will be attending training and start piloting the system the week of July 11, 2005.   The pilot will include entering assessment results and transferring data from local student information systems and assessment data collectors. Once the system has been verified through the pilot process, statewide training and implementation can begin. Further updates on the timeline for this training will be provided through upcoming informational letters.

Overseas Learning Experiences:

It has also come to our attention that units are providing a range of responses when questioned about overseas study programs for high school students.   Some units are extremely flexible, while others are reported to have responded that overseas study might negatively impact the student’s ability to participate in common assessments, and thus make it more difficult to earn a diploma based on the Learning Results.   It is the recommendation of the Department that maximum flexibility be provided for high school students interested in pursuing overseas study programs.   Through the replacement assessment strategy, outlined in the LAS Guide, and other common sense modifications that districts can make to the guidance, it should be possible to accommodate students in their pursuit of these rich learning opportunities.

Contact information:  

Learning Results Implementation

Patrick Phillips

Local Assessment

Pam Rolfe