AUGUSTA — The Democratic alternative to Gov. Paul LePage’s A-to-F grading system for Maine’s public schools won initial approval from the Legislature on Tuesday, but it likely won’t hold up.
L.D. 1540, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, the Senate chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, would hold up action related to the existing grading system and wait until the 2014-15 school year to implement a new one.
It passed 21-14 in the Senate and 80-55 in the House on Tuesday. But it got just two Republican votes – from Sen. Thomas Saviello of Wilton and Rep. Carol McElwee of Caribou. Six House Democrats broke with their party to oppose the bill.
The nearly party-line vote means that if LePage vetoes the bill, Democrats won’t have enough votes to override it.
In early May, Democratic legislators introduced their alternative, accusing the governor of shaming students and teachers. However, they were short on specifics.
The bill was then just an idea, introduced days after the administration released the grades for all schools May 1. LePage announced his intent to grade schools in February. The system is based largely on standardized testing.
Critics of the system, mainly Democrats, have said it favors schools in wealthy communities. It’s also graded on a bell curve, so grades relate only to themselves.
Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen has defended the system, saying he wants to hold all schools to one standard, and the bell curve was used to set a baseline for the first year’s grades. After that, he has said, it won’t be needed.
Millett’s bill would direct the department to form a task force to study school assessment systems nationwide. The task force would report its findings, along with necessary legislation, to the Education Committee by November.
The committee would then endorse a bill addressing recommendations, after which the department would adopt rules setting up the new grading system for the 2014-15 school year.
On the floor Tuesday, Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, said a school administrator in his district approached him, unhappy with his school’s score.
“Rather than complain, he admitted that there were some areas that they need to do better,” Thomas said. “He said, ‘We will do better next time.'”
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at: