May 2, 2013

Administration unveils school grades; C the average for Central Maine schools

By Susan McMillan
Staff Writer

and Noel K. Gallagher
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The LePage administration unveiled its A-F grading system Wednesday, the latest education reform effort that has already drawn sharp criticism from union leaders and educators.

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Central Maine elementary/junior high school grades
Central Maine high school grades

Breakdown of all Maine schools, by grade*:

Elementary Schools (grades 3-8)
Grade, number of schools, percentage.
A - 50 schools, 12 percent
B - 55 schools, 13 percent
C - 233 schools, 56 percent
D - 48 schools, 11 percent
F - 32 schools, 8 percent

High schools
Grade, number of schools, percentage.
A - 10 schools, 8 percent
B - 20 schools, 16 percent
C - 55 schools, 45 percent
D - 28 schools, 23 percent
F - 9 schools, 7 percent

* 30 elementary schools and 7 high schools were exempted from the calculation because they were new or lacked sufficient data for scoring.

– Source: Maine Department of Education

Statewide, 75 percent of both high schools and elementary schools got a C or lower. For elementary schools, only 12 percent got A’s, and 13 percent got B’s. For high schools, only 10 schools, or 8 percent, got A’s, and 20 schools, or 16 percent, got B’s.

At a press conference in Augusta at the Maine State Library, Gov. Paul LePage said the grades would make schools accountable.

"We grade all our children, and now all we're doing is taking data that's in the filing cabinets and putting it out so parents, teachers, administrators, anyone and everyone interested in the schools, in a school system in Maine, to see how they're doing," LePage said.

"I want the good schools to be rewarded, and those that aren't doing as well, we want to be able to help them."

"It's for our kids," he said. "We need to put our kids first ... These kids are our future for our state, country and the world."

As in most of the state, C was the common grade for schools in central Maine.

Only one school in the Augusta area, Whitefield Elementary in RSU 12, received an F. There were a handful of As, including Hussey Elementary in Augusta and Fayette Central School, which earned scores that placed them both in the top five elementary and middle schools statewide.

Also in central Maine, Augusta's Cony High School got a C, Gardiner Area High School got a D, and Erskine Academy in China got a B.

Pat Hopkins, superintendent of Gardiner-based RSU 11, reacted to the grades, feeling the grades did not reflect work that has been done recently to improve performance.

In March, Hopkins sent a letter to parents celebrating the gains that RSU 11 students have made on standardized tests in recent years, in some cases surpassing state average scores.

On Wednesday she planned to send home another letter, this time explaining the district's middling grades, which she said don't reflect improvements made in the schools.

"I don't think a simple grade accurately reflects the day-to-day work that's going on in the classroom," Hopkins said. "That work is just far more complicated than a single letter grade can provide.
Gardiner Area High School students performed well enough on tests to earn the school a C, but only 94.5 percent of students participated. Because state and federal authorities require 95 percent participation, the school was docked a grade and fell to a D.

An elementary school in the district, Pittston Consolidated School, fell 0.7 points short of a B.

Meanwhile, the two towns in Alternative Organizational Structure 97 had the highest-performing schools in central Maine. Fayette Central School, Winthrop Grade School and Winthrop Middle School all earned As. Winthrop High School received a B.

"It validates the work we're doing in the schools," Superintendent Gary Rosenthal said. "So we're really thrilled."

Rosenthal said the data show that schools in the district are promoting growth among all students, including the lowest achievers.

AOS 97 schools have below-average rates of low-income students in the area, but Rosenthal said he's not deterministic about socioeconomic status and school performance.

(Continued on page 2)

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