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Maine Public Schools Await State 'Report Cards'
04/29/2013   Reported By: Keith Shortall

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is about to issue report cards to public schools across the state. The administration says the grades are designed to let schools know how they're doing and to engage parents. But as Keith Shortall reports, critics say the plan is punitive and arbitrary.

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The state Department of Education is grading each of Maine's 600 public schools the old fashioned way - with an "A" for the best, and an "F" for the worst.

"Basically, the formulas are based on two things, which is proficiency and growth," says Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen says elementary schools and high schools will each be graded by their own set of measurements

"And proficiency at the elementary level is basically what students scores are in math and reading, and proficiency at the high school is that math and reading, and also looking at graduation rates as a way of achieving that proficiency," Bowen says.

Growth for elementary schools, Bowen says, will be measured as a percentage of the students in each class who progress to the next level over the course of a year. At the high school level, says Bowen, 11th graders will be compared from year to year based on SAT scores.

"That's not a great solution, but it's still one that allows us to look at: What's the trend? Which way is a school going? Is a school trending upward? Are the scores going up?" Bowen says. "If so, we want to recognize that, because again, the core for us is, how do we recognize best practices, things that are really working on the ground? This is why I've been traveling around a lot to visit schools to see what they're doing, and we want to take those best practices and share them with other districts."

The grading system is also designed to motivate parents to become involved in their local schools - "Pick up the phone, call your superintendent, call your prinicpal: 'What's going on with these math scores?' Bowen says, "and really try to engage people and get them involved in making our schools better."

"If he's looking for parents to got more involved in their schools and support their children, I think this is an utter failure," says Connie Brown, executive director of the Maine School Boards Association and the Maine School Management Association.

Brown says the LePage adminstration's approach has been arbritrary, ignoring arts, science, writing and languages. And she says the plan lacks public input, as compared with similar initiatives in other states that have incorporated written comments from parents about what they think of their local schools.

Brown says she met with Commissioner Bowen to discuss the grading system, and came away - as she puts it - "disillusioned."

"I felt that this was yet another attack on public schools, a way for the commissioner to demonstrate a complete lack of support for the schools he's supposed to advocating for, and great concern about what this could mean for different communities and their public schools," Brown says.

The statewide database of individual school grades will be posted Wednesday on the Maine Department of Education website. Superintendents will see the grades before then.



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