This is part of a weekly series of posts by Roy Ulrickson III, our Master of Social Work Intern. Roy will be providing a scholarly analysis and perspective on early child care intervention, social emotional development and special education. Opinions expressed may not reflect those of MCA, but we want to encourage an open dialogue with our readers.
I recently sat in on a meeting of Maine’s Legislative Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs regarding the implementation of Proficiency-Based Diplomas as set forth in LD 1422 passed in 2012. The discussion between the committee and the Department of Education revolved around the fact that many districts are anticipating difficulties in meeting the January 2018 deadline for implementation of the new standards. Many school districts are struggling to adapt to this paradigm shift in our education system.
Personally, I believe Proficiency-Based Diplomas are an excellent step forward for Maine’s educational system. No longer can students just be “passed” on to the next grade or graduate without having received a certain level of proficiency necessary for competing in our quickly changing global economy. Not only will these new graduates be better able to pursue post-secondary education, those who choose not to pursue higher education will be better equipped to succeed in the workforce.
I have a unique perspective on our public school system – especially in the more rural parts of the state. I have worked as an early interventionist in a preschool setting and worked 1:1 with special needs children in both primary and elementary schools. Working with special needs students requires a scaffolding of abilities to help work toward independence and inclusion in the regular classroom. A proficiency based education system has a very similar goal. In addition to my 1:1 work, I would assist the classroom teachers with instruction. I would frequently help students that struggled with understanding the instruction occurring in the classroom and would often work with smaller groups outside of the classroom to provide additional tutoring. It was apparent as I worked with these struggling students, that proficiency based standards need to be implemented in the lower grades – preferably in Kindergarten!
Primary school students should be required to demonstrate math and literacy proficiency before they graduate to elementary school. Elementary students should be required to be proficient before the move on to middle school. Benchmarks must be met before students can move on to 3rd, 6th and 9th grade. While this approach would require a concerted effort to identify struggling students and develop specific research demonstrates that this can be accomplished.
Kim, Otaiba & Wanzek (2015) indicate that most Kindergarteners who had been identified to have deficits in oral and written communication demonstrated similar deficits in 3rd grade. Those students who receive no formal interventions continued to struggle and fall behind their peers. However, when evidenced-based interventions are employed, all students can succeed – especially in math. Toll and Luit (2014) demonstrate that numeracy skills in Kindergarten can predict math skills through sixth grade. They also indicate that children who trail their peers in numeracy skills can catch up by the end of first grade with as little as 720 minutes of intervention over a 24 week period. Fuchs, Fuchs and Compton (2012) show that at-risk students who receive tutoring in addition to classroom instruction at appropriate RTI (response to intervention) levels can progress and catch up with their peers – even those receiving special education services. Jones, Brown and Aber (2011) demonstrated that math and reading achievement went up when a universal social-emotional and literacy intervention was utilized in an elementary school. Early intervention is key. When children receive help early on, they can succeed throughout their educational career.
Considering that 63% of Maine 4th graders were below proficiency in reading and over 53% were below proficiency in math, the shift toward proficiency based standards must start at the primary school level. This is especially true if we want to stay competitive with our neighbors in New England. Without learning and solidifying these basic skills in the lower grades, students are likely to struggle throughout their educational lives.
Though they will not graduate for another decade, we must focus our resources on students at the primary school level, in addition to the preschool level, if we wish to have students who are ready for the global workplace. Early intervention is the most cost effective and efficient way of leveling the playing field. Proficiency standards must start at the bottom and develop a strong learning foundation for each and every child. Only then will these children be ready for their careers in education and in the job market.
Roy is completing his Master of Social Work degree through the University of Maine. He has spent the last decade working with special needs children in a preschool and public school settings and was devoted to improving the lives of children and their families. After graduation, Roy plans to continue advocacy for all children.
Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., & Compton, D. L. (2012). The early prevention of mathematics difficulty: Its power and limitations. Journal of learning disabilities, 33, 39-49.doi: 10.1177/0022219412442167
Jones, S. M., Brown, J. L., & Lawrence Aber, J. (2011). Two‐year impacts of a universal school‐based social‐emotional and literacy intervention: An experiment in translational developmental research. Child Development, 82(2), 533-554. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01560.x
Kim, YS., Al Otaibab, S. & Wanzeka, J. (2015) Kindergarten predictors of third grade writing. Learning and Individual Differences, 37, 27-37. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2014.11.009.
Toll, S. W., & Van Luit, J. E. (2014). Effects of remedial numeracy instruction throughout kindergarten starting at different ages: Evidence from a large-scale longitudinal study. Learning and Instruction, 33, 39–49. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2014.03.003.