School officials: Honors classes will continue

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BENNINGTON — Honors and Advanced Placement classes will remain available to high school students, say school officials, despite concerns that state requirements for proficiency-based graduation would lead to elimination of higher-level classes.

The state Flexible Pathways Initiative, or Act 77, became law in July 2013. The Act requires schools to implement personalization of students' educational experiences, flexible learning opportunities and proficiency-based graduation requirements.

The Act does not specify particular requirements for honors and AP classes.

In fact, according to Title 16, Chapter 23, Subchapter 2 of the Vermont State Statutes, which relates to the Flexible Pathways Initiative, nothing prohibits school districts from developing or continuing to provide "educational opportunities for its students that are otherwise permitted, including the provision of Advanced Placement courses."

"Those offerings that are there for AP and honors will remain," said Jim Culkeen, superintendent of SVSU. "I'm not a predictor of the future, but I don't believe there's any plans to [change]."

In fact, MAUHS will offer two new Advanced Placement science courses for the 2018-19 school year — Physics and Environmental Science, said Laura Boudreau, interim principal of MAUHS and director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.

The personalization aspect of the Act requires all students in grades 7 through 12 have Personalized Learning Plans by the 2018-19 school year — something that's already in place in SVSU.

That was a focus over the last three years, Boudreau said.

The learning plan is documentation of an evolving plan developed with the student's participation, which describes the learning opportunities and support services the student needs to achieve college and career readiness before graduation.

The plan must be reviewed at least annually.

"It's going to be our responsibility as schools to look at the personalized learning plans and make sure we have classes that meet the direction (the students) want to head," Boudreau said.

The flexible learning opportunities element of the Act requires schools to provide students with varied learning methods, including career and technical education, work-based learning, virtual learning, and dual enrollment.

"We're becoming more personalized in the educational experience," Boudreau said. "That's what I love about this shift."

SVSU is also transitioning to a proficiency-based learning system, as required by state standards that reflect Act 77.

According to a Boudreau, the SVSU has currently implemented standards-based grading at the elementary level. That program will be fully implemented at Mount Anthony Union Middle School by next school year.

At MAUHS, the school is implementing a pilot program next year and will move toward having a dual report card with traditional grades and proficiency information.

As questions are raised about the Act 77 requirements and what that means for the area's students, officials want people to have the most accurate information, Boudreau said.

"Communication is an important part of this process, because it's a huge educational shift," she said. To that end, SVSU issued the FAQs on the supervisory union's shift to proficiency-based graduation.

The FAQs have not yet been posted online, but officials are hoping to do so, Boudreau said.

The FAQs state that there are no scheduled curriculum changes in the MAU district next year.

Both MAUHS and MAUMS have proficiency-based learning teams, and faculty have participated in many proficiency-based learning trainings over the last three years, according to the FAQs.

"We're helping them design a plan, and then we're helping them to design their educational pathway to get to graduation and meet the graduation requirements," Boudreau said of proficiency-based learning. "It's flexible; it's personalized. It's really about making sure all students are fully supported along their journey."

With proficiency-based learning, students must demonstrate evidence that they've met the graduation requirements, Boudreau said.

SVSU will determine what evidence will be collected; curriculum teams are working on that, she said.

MAU Board Chairman Tim Holbrook said that the issue would be discussed in depth at a special meeting on June 19, which has not yet been warned.

"We're working to create a system that looks at each child as an individual," Boudreau said, summarizing what Act 77 requirements mean for the students of SVSU. "We're here to support their journey to the graduation requirements."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BEN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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