October 25, 2012

Nine Portland schools fail to meet standards

But officials warn that No Child Left Behind targets, for which the bar is raised each year, are unrealistic.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Nine of the city's 16 public schools failed to meet federal performance standards in the 2011-12 school year, but school officials say those results don't accurately reflect what's happening in classrooms.

"Our schools are not doing worse this year than last year, but you wouldn't know that from the way the federal lists are calculated," said Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen earlier this month, when the results were released.

In Portland, Casco Bay, Deering and Portland high schools failed to meet the standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind law, as did the Hall, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools, and Lincoln and Lyman Moore middle schools.

One of the longstanding criticisms of No Child Left Behind is that schools can improve their test scores and still not meet the standards because the bar is raised each year.

For instance, more schools made some progress in meeting reading and math standards in the 2011-12 school year than in 2010-11, but the number of schools that made adequate progress under federal standards dropped considerably.

Statewide, only 184 of 608 public schools made adequate progress in 2011-12, down from 276 the previous year.

Maine schools are required each year to meet higher testing targets than the previous year to make "adequate yearly progress."

For last year, the target for schools with grades 3 through 8 was 75 percent of students proficient in reading and 70 percent proficient in math.

For high schools, 78 percent of students had to be proficient in reading and 66 percent had to be proficient in math.

Mike McCarthy, principal of King Middle School in Portland, said he was proud that his school met the standards in both math and reading.

"Our teachers work hard; we don't focus on the test," he said. King's interdisciplinary, project-based learning model is nationally known.

Only the Hall, Presumpscot and Reiche schools face ramifications for failing to meet the standards because they are the only Portland schools on the list that receive federal Title I funding, which is given to schools with a certain number of students from low-income backgrounds.

Those schools must work on improvement plans and must give students the option to transfer within the district.

Cynthia Loring, principal of the Presumpscot school, said last year was the first year her school has failed to make adequate yearly progress in any area. She doesn't see that as a failure, but as an opportunity.

"It's another tool that allows us to focus in on our strengths and weaknesses and make improvements," she said.

Presumpscot failed in just one area: reading proficiency among students with disabilities.

Gail Cressey, the No Child Left Behind coordinator for Portland schools, said only a handful of students have transferred this year.

"We have school choice anyway, so if a parent wants to send their child to a school outside their district, they can, as long as transportation arrangements are made," she said.

The annual No Child Left Behind results often frustrate educators, but the law's impact in Maine is likely to change after this year.

Maine has received a waiver to continue using the 2010-11 targets for the 2012-13 school year, which will be the basis of next year's status results. It's likely to help schools meet progress standards, Cressey said.

More importantly, Maine has requested an additional waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to allow schools to set more realistic progress goals and base achievement on more than standardized test scores.

A decision on that waiver is expected in the coming months.

Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, the union that represents teachers, said her organization supports the waiver.

(Continued on page 2)

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