Originally published in Compass, May 9, 2013
What are these “school report cards?”
by Jessica Brophy
On May 1, the Maine Department of Education released A-F grades for nearly every elementary school and high school in the state.
On the MDOE’s website is a list of questions and answers about the Maine School Performance Grading System. “All parents and community members deserve to understand how well their children’s schools are performing and what is being done to improve them,” said the website. The MDOE acknowledges that a school can’t be summed up in one grade, but said that the many sets of data often tell conflicting or inconsistent stories. The A-F grade is meant to show “how a school is serving its students academically.”
While Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen has stated on the MDOE website that the state has “plans to support schools that are struggling,” there are no specifics offered on what that support might look like and how it might be passed on to schools.
The only school in the Penobscot Bay coverage area to receive an F was Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School, part of Union 76. Union superintendent Mark Jenkins said he had seen “nothing tangible” from the DOE about plans to help struggling schools.
For elementary schools, half of the grade was calculated on proficiency, and half was on growth. Proficiency referred to the percent of students in each school who achieved proficient or proficient with distinction in math and reading on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). The growth portion was split in two; one part was based on the “collective growth of individual students,” or how well individual students improved in math and reading from the previous year. The second part tallied the growth of the bottom 25 percent of students. The other element taken into consideration was what percentage of students took the NECAP or its alternative, the Personalized Alternate Assessment Portfolio (PAAP).
So, 25 percent of the grade is math proficiency, 25 percent reading proficiency, 25 percent overall growth in math and reading and 25 percent in growth in the bottom 25 percent of students. For elementary schools, only test scores from grades 3-8 are used.
The high school grades are based on a three-year average of SAT scores (taken during grade 11), and does not take into account the growth of the bottom 25 percent, but rather graduation rates.
The Maine Education Association, the union representing Maine’s teachers and educators, put out a four-page critique of the LePage administration’s report card program. The MEA contends there is a direct link between schools receiving low grades from the state and higher rates of students receiving free and reduced lunch—typically an indicator of the socioeconomic status of communities.
In that critique, the MEA said schools receiving an “F” rating from the state saw an average of 67 percent of its students eligible for free and reduced lunch, while schools receiving an “A” had only an average of 25 percent.
“The Governor’s grading system is deeply flawed,” the critique concludes. “Hopefully what policymakers can gain from this ill-conceived and poorly executed public relations gimmick is that there are deep socioeconomic divides in Maine that have tremendous influence on our children and our public education system.”
Each of the area school boards will address the state-issued grades during May school board meetings and beyond, as needed, according to Union 76 and Union 93 superintendents.
For more information about the Maine School Performance Grading System, and to see data for specific schools, visit maine.gov/doe/schoolreportcards.