2013-05-01 / Front Page

State labels West Bath, Richmond schools with 'D'

Link to complete state list inside
BY LARRY GRARD, DARCIE MOORE, JT LEONARD and BOB MENTZINGER Times Record Staff

FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE STATE'S REPORT CARDS FOR SCHOOLS, CLICK HERE


GOV. PAUL LEPAGE ... announced grading idea in February speech GOV. PAUL LEPAGE ... announced grading idea in February speech Elementary schools in West Bath and Richmond don’t pass muster with the LePage administration.

On the other hand, Dresden Elementary School is a paragon of achievement, achieving one of the only “A” grades in the Mid-coast.

Those are among results of a controversial new letter-grade system for Maine public schools being unveiled this afternoon by Gov. Paul LePage and state Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

The new system uses a familiar Athrough F scale to grade most of the state’s 600 public schools.

As schools began receiving the grades Tuesday, most administrators reacted cautiously, some declined comment, while critics repeated their calls that the system is punitive and arbitrary.

Bowen is expected to explain at today’s 1 p.m. news conference at the Maine State Library how the report cards were developed — and what his department will do to aid struggling schools.

Bath-based Regional School Unit 1 schools, on average, rated a “C.”

Tim Harkins, chairman of the RSU 1 Board of Directors, said Tuesday that Phippsburg Elementary School got the best grade of the district’s schools — a “B”.

Fisher-Mitchell School of Bath, Woolwich Central School, Bath Middle School and Morse High School all rated a “C,” Harkins said.

West Bath Elementary School received a “D,” he said.

In Brunswick, the high school and junior high school each received a “B” grade, while Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School received a “C.”

Brad Smith, superintendent of School Administrative District 75 — which operates a high school, middle school and five elementary schools serving Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham — declined to release the district’s letter grades Tuesday, saying he wanted to wait until after the state announcement.

Officials at regional School Unit 5 — Freeport, Durham and Pownal — declined The Times Record’s request for the data Tuesday.

Lisbon’s three schools each received a “C” grade. Superintendent Richard Green said he isn’t going to be critical of the grading system, and that the district’s administrative team will use the report cards as a tool to improve.

Green said he wasn’t excited to see “C”s, and expected higher grades.

Elsewhere, local reaction was more harsh.

Brunswick School Superintendent Paul Perzanoski — a frequent critic of the LePage administration — called the grades “political” and “a continuation of the discrediting and dismantling of public schools for the purpose of using public dollars to fund private and religious schools.”

Regarding the impending assessments, “I had no expectations,” he said, “but it’s demoralizing.”

“It’s the same thing they’ve been trying to do since 1983, which is to remove money from the public schools (budget) and use it to fund parochial and private schools,” Perzanoski said.

Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent Virgel Hammonds said administrators will be asking a lot of questions about how the state arrived at the scores.

With Richmond Middle School receiving a “D,” Hammonds said grades “can come down to a few kids.”

Richmond Middle School was 0.9 points away from a “C,” he said, “which we figure is about one question from one student on one assessment,” he said.

“I think for us, we’re definitely all about accountability,” Hammonds said. “We’re not afraid of accountability; we deserve to have it just like everybody else. Our concern is to make sure it is done as fairly as possible and is a true reflection of the students in our school system.”

Maine joins a dozen other states and New York City in grouping data to provide parents and community members easy-to-understand information about their local schools, the administration has said.

The grades are based on standardized test scores in math and English, students’ growth and progress, and the performance and growth of the bottom 25 percent of students. LePage announced the idea during his State of the State Address in February.

The system — an administrative initiative that did not require legislative approval — has drawn fire from Democrats.

State Sen. Christopher Johnson, D-Somerville, has voiced concern that standardized tests don’t cover enough subjects to be an accurate gauge, and that the system will drive people away from some towns.

“You’re going to tell people not to buy a house in that town,” he said in the statement. “You’re devaluing property.”

The Maine Department of Education “questions and answers” document says the system aims to “provide a starting point, with easy-tounderstand and concise information showing how a school is doing, and to make sure that schools are accountable for explaining school performance to their communities.”

This document further states that “A school receiving a low grade may be doing many things right. ... The letter grade shows, based on already-public and objective data, how a school is serving its student academically.”

In this first year of the grading system, the state is using data from reading and math proficiency on the New England Comprehensive Assessment Program tests in grades 3-8, proficiency on the SAT and the graduation rate in high school. High school progress is based on threeyear averages because high schools only test in grade 11.

Department of Education spokesman David Connerty- Marin said the idea came from Florida. At an education summit organized by LePage last month, Florida educators said the grading system caused an uproar at first but resulted in parents and communities rallying around schools to improve them.

Connerty-Marin rejected the notion that the purpose of the grading system was to embarrass schools.

“We’ll give schools these labels and then the question is, ‘What are you going to do to help them?’” he said. “We’re not going to just simply label and run.”

INFORMATION from The Associated Press and Bangor Daily News staff writer Christopher Cousins was included in this report.

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