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Fort Schools Suffer Low Grades
in State’s School Report Card Program
Elementary School Does Best, with a C
By: David Deschesne
Fort Fairfield Journal, May 15, 2013
The Maine Department of Education recently released a list of report cards for each of the state’s schools in order to provide Mainers with a better understanding of where their schools stand, and how they can improve.
State education officials have been developing the grading system since late 2012, with the formal announcement by Governor Paul LePage in his 2013 State of the State Address.
In an effort to ensure the report cards are clear and concise yet comprehensive enough to be constructive, the grades are based on proficiency and progress. At the elementary school level, math and reading proficiency as measured by standardized assessments and progress are weighted equally in determining a school’s grade. Progress includes both the growth of all students and the gains made specifically by the bottom 25 percent of students. At the high school level, math and reading proficiency and progress each account for 40 percent of a school’s grade, and four-year and five-year graduation rates account for the remaining 20 percent.
Governor LePage and Education Commissioner Stephen L. Bowen unveiled new benchmarking that uses existing data and a familiar A-F scale to grade each school. With the launch of the Maine School Performance Grading System, the state joins 13 others and New York City in empowering parents and community members with easy-to-understand information about their local school. The Governor and Commissioner said the A-F grading system reflects a commitment to transparency, parent engagement and putting the state’s students first.
Locally, Fort Fairfield Elementary school received a C. Fort Fairfield Elementary School made Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), when only a handful of schools throughout the state made AYP. AYP is a Maine Department of Education standard that shows where schools are compared to a pre-established benchmark of grades in math, reading and science. “Look at Mars Hill, they also made AYP. That's much harder than getting a C,” said Fort Fairfield's SAD #20 Superintendent, Marc Gendron. “So, we have two schools that I believe are two high performing elementary schools and they both get C's. We were above state average in just about everything, what could we possibly do? If you can beat every state category except one, I don't know how you get a C.”
Fort Fairfield High School received a D on its report card from the State. “The High School got a D because we lost one and a half letter grades because of our graduation rate. Is that an excuse? No, that's a problem,” said Gendron. “The minute you start talking about this then all it sounds like is you're making a bunch of excuses for bad grades. The High School would have been a C+ .”
Gendron reminds us Fort Fairfield High School is the same High School that received an award in U.S. News and World Report in 2010 as a top 10 school in the State of Maine. “In 2012 we were a top 20 High School in the State of Maine and then all of a sudden we go to a grade of a D. This information was based on one year's data and I'm not making that an excuse. It's a D. It's what it is and we have to improve.
With an F grade, Fort Fairfield Middle School received the lowest of all three of Fort Fairfield's schools. “That's our major area of concern. We need to improve those because if you look at where we are compared to the elementary school, or any other school, we have issues and had a particularly bad year,” explained Gendron. “The Middle school is low in all categories. I did a four year average, the four year average is better but it doesn't matter. Take it for what is is; we need to improve and that's where a great deal of our effort is going to go in the next year, to concentrate on that improvement- including staffing changes.”
Fort Fairfield town manager, Dan Foster and the Fort Fairfield Quality of Place council are obviously concerned with the grading status of the local schools. “He's afraid the perception's going to be negative because we've been hit with two hard strikes now,” said Gendron. “One was graduation rates, which I'm extremely confident is going to improve, then the states' grading. We understand these are not scores that we want to move forward with and we want to improve every school at every level.”
“Maine’s economic future depends on how well our schools prepare our students for success in college, careers and civic life,” said Governor LePage, who has made education reform the focus of his Administration. “These report cards show the majority of Maine’s schools are average, but I believe Maine’s students deserve an above-average education. With this accessible accountability system, students, parents and educators can work together to raise their grades and create better outcomes for Maine kids.”
Based on data already collected by the Department, the majority of both Maine’s elementary and high schools are average or above; 81 percent of the 422 elementary schools graded and 69 percent of the 124 high schools earned an A, B or C.
Meanwhile, 11 percent of elementary schools and 23 percent of high schools received a D and 8 percent of both elementary and high schools received an F.
The overall state grade was a C at both the elementary and high school levels.
Commissioner Bowen stressed the Department of Education is a resource to all schools no matter their grade and will be increasing its support to struggling schools while doing more to promote promising practices already in place. Additionally, the LePage Administration’s budget proposal includes $3 million to be allocated for improvement initiatives.
“The release of the report cards today is an opportunity for a constructive conversation on school performance in which we are all speaking the same language,” said Commissioner Bowen. “Just as parents lean in when their child receives an F and encourage the good work to continue when they earn an A, we hope they do the same when it comes to responding to the grade their school receives.
“We understand a letter grade does not tell the whole story of a student, nor does it tell the whole story of a school,” Bowen added. “Rather, this is a good-faith effort to condense the reams of data the department already collects into an accessible snapshot of where our schools are today, showing areas where we are doing well and those where we need to improve. Now that we have this benchmark, the Department looks forward to helping educators expand existing examples of excellence to make Maine’s schools better for all students.”
In addition to the report cards, Bowen also announced the public availability of a new comprehensive website for those who wish to dig deeper beyond the letter grades. That resource, which the Department created in 2012, contains detailed multi-year information about all Maine schools and allows users to look at individual schools and districts or compare schools across the state.
The next round of report cards for Maine high schools will be released this fall using data from the May Maine High School Assessment for third-year students. Elementary school report cards will be sent out in the spring of 2014.
For more information about the Maine School Performance Grading System, visitwww.maine.gov/doe/schoolreportcards.
Fort Fairfield Journal ©2013 David R. Deschesne, All Rights Reserved