Over the past few weeks, the results of several state and national K-12 assessments have been released.

The net of all of the comment on the results was best put by Francis Eberle, currently the executive director of the National Science Teacher Association and previously the longtime head of the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance.

He said, in reference to the specific results of the federal national science assessment, part of the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): “There is not much here to celebrate.”

As one reviews the results of the NAEP testing and those of the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) for Maine, there is indeed little to celebrate.

On the NAEP science assessment, only 20 percent of high school seniors scored at least proficient. The NAEP tested a large sample of U.S. students in grades 4, 8 and 11.

The NAEP data came just a month after the United States received the latest results from a prominent international assessment of math and science, which had American 15-year-olds performing just at average among leading developed nations in science and below average in math.

Maine’s NECAP results, given in math and writing for grades 3-8 as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law, were somewhat better but not reassuringly so.

Sixty-one percent of Maine students were proficient in math and 48 percent were proficient in writing.

This is disturbing stuff. If you believe as I do, that these are well-designed tests in which “proficiency” indicates students’ readiness to perform adequately enough to progress to college or technical education, then large chunks of Maine students aren’t making it.

It is no wonder that Gov. LePage, in an address on education last week, decried the fact that almost 50 percent of Maine high school graduates attending the Community College System require some remedial courses and one in four attending the University of Maine System have similar needs.

Moreover, analysis done by faculty at the University of Southern Maine’s School of Education suggests that students who require two or more remedial courses will likely fail.

The time is long past to seriously address lackluster student achievement. Maine has tried all sorts of initiatives over the past 20 years and thrown lots of money at the problem – to little effect.

The long-term solution is clear. Maine, and the United States, need to recruit teachers from the top third of their college graduating classes, not the bottom third as is now the case.

A global study of K-12 education by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company flatly states: Only those countries who recruit teachers from the top third of their university systems achieve above-average student outcomes.

Changing this country’s approach to recruiting teachers is something that will take years to effect, although programs like Teach for America are showing that this can be done.

In the short term there are at least two initiatives that the governor should consider for Maine: high school exit exams, and governance changes to strengthen the role of superintendents in relation to our school boards.

These two initiatives are credited for leading to a turnaround of Massachusetts’ school and student performance.

Twenty years ago, Massachusetts student performance was well below that of Maine on most national assessments. Now Massachusetts students routinely outperform ours, even though Massachusetts has a much higher proportion of minority students – who typically have more difficulty in educational assessments.

Back in 1993, the Massachusetts Legislature voted to institute a high-stakes exam that all Massachusetts students had to pass to graduate.

At the same time, that state approved a sweeping education reform act that increased accountability for educational outcomes, narrowed the focus of school boards to policy issues, and strengthened the hand of superintendents in hiring and curriculum decisions.

These initiatives were hugely controversial, but they are generally credited with being the linchpins of the Massachusetts educational improvement.

Why not Maine? We can learn something from the Massachusetts experience. The LePage administration is in a situation where boldness is demanded.

This is a rare opportunity for Maine. For too long K-12 institutional interests, like the School Boards Association and the Maine Education Association (the teachers union), have stifled any moves toward more accountability.

If the governor really wants to improve K-12 education, he should take a close look at the Massachusetts experience. Something right has happened there.

Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states to show significant educational improvement over the past 20 years.

This may just be the time to bring the best elements of the Massachusetts model to Maine.

Ron Bancroft is an independent strategy consultant based in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]