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News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 22, 2014
Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary school up from F to C in state’s report cards
High school holds at C

by Anne Berleant and Jessica Brophy

At this time last year, Deer Isle Stonington Elementary School Principal Mike Benjamin had just held a public forum with community members about the elementary school’s F from the state’s new Report Card program.

This year, a pizza and ice cream party is planned for students.

The change in tone is due to the school receiving a C grade from the state during the second year of the state-issued letter grade assessment. “It’s great,” said Benjamin. “I’m really excited for teachers, staff and students.”

The high school held steady at a C, the same grade it received last year. The majority of Maine’s schools received Cs.

The grade for each school is based on student achievement in reading and math, growth in achievement and on the performance of the bottom 25 percent of students. The primary metrics for the elementary school are test scores on the New England Common Assessment Program and the alternative test Maine offers for students with cognitive disabilities, the Personalized Alternate Assessment Portfolio. For the high school, the assessments are the SAT and the PAAP. Graduation rates are also used as a metric for the high school.

The elementary school saw improvement in every category, said Benjamin.

“The biggest change was student attitude and working on writing improvement,” said Benjamin. Faculty and staff spend time looking at individual NECAP questions to identify weak areas, and identified writing as one of those areas.

Teachers emphasized test-taking strategies and spent time working on practice test questions so students would be less surprised by the test content. Reading instruction focused more on helping students recognize detail in non-fiction passages and letting them know it was ok to go back and re-read a passage as needed. There was also work done to improve the Response to Intervention process, which is a process that identifies student problems and helps teachers meet student needs.

The best thing about the improved grade is how students are feeling, Benjamin said. “They really took it hard last year.” “Everyone has worked hard to bring the grade up.”

This will be the last year for this particular grading system, said Benjamin, as the NECAP is being phased out and replaced by a different standardized test called the Smarter Balance, which is more aligned with the Common Core standards.

While the improvement at the school is certainly something to celebrate, both Benjamin and Union 76 Superintendent Mark Jenkins say the state’s system does not tell the full story of a school’s success.

“The system itself is very faulty, so bumps can happen, both negative and positive,” said Jenkins. “More important, there’s been a lot of ongoing building effort with remediation.”

Statewide, of 415 elementary schools, 40 received an A, 53 a B, 209 a C, 61 a D and 52 an F. Of the 121 high schools, 10 received an A, 18 a B, 68 a C, 22 a D and 13 an F.

Only 93 schools statewide went up a letter grade, and of those 93, only 21 went up two letter grades.

Benjamin said he’s very pleased with the school’s improvement, and looks forward to maintaining the forward momentum. He’s also looking forward to the pizza and ice cream party—though he did say one student had asked if the school could celebrate with puppies for everyone.

“I didn’t think that would be popular with parents,” said Benjamin.

Click here to download the 2014-15 Annual Report on the Schools.