May 14, 2013

Two Portland schools, two miles apart, far different grades

One receives an A, the other an F using test scores as criteria, exposing the system's flaws, critics say.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Students head home for the day from the Hall School in Portland on Friday.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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"Longfellow is not a very diverse school," she said.

Morrione, who also is on the school board, said it's clear to her that the letter grades are designed to pit schools against one another to generate more support for school choice and charter schools, something the governor has pushed for since he took office in 2011.

"There are no recommendations for improvements and no funding," she said. "Is the message to just do better on one test? That's not what we should be pushing."

Bowen, however, said the Education Department already is contacting schools that received D's and F's to learn how the state can support them.

Renee, with the Anneberg Institute for School Reform, said that if the state is trying to motivate schools, this isn't the way to do it.

"You can't treat education like you're producing widgets," she said.

Costa, the school board member, said it's bad enough for Portland students to worry about being inferior to those in more-affluent Falmouth or Cape Elizabeth. They really shouldn't have to worry about that within their own school district, he said.

But Portland isn't alone. In South Portland, three elementary schools within a mile or so of one another -- Dyer, Brown and Kaler -- ran the gamut. Dyer received an A, Brown got a C and Kaler got an F.

One potential side effect of the system is that parents with students in "failing" schools might consider out-of-district placement.

Portland has 10 elementary schools. In general, students are placed in schools based on where they live. But if a parent petitions the school department, a child can be moved.

The problem for the school district is making sure that enrollment is generally equal from school to school.

Sarah Thompson said she doesn't think the grades will prompt more parents to consider out-of-district placement for their children, but she acknowledged that it's a concern.

David R. Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University who helped create a school accountability system in his state, said even though they aren't necessarily effective at improving schools, grading systems don't cause as much turmoil as people fear.

For the moment, Portland officials are walking a fine line between ignoring the letter grades and working hard to fight public perception. "We need to focus on the things we know are working," said Morrione.

Costa said he hopes that parents will take it upon themselves to hear from schools and teachers directly, rather than relying on politicians in Augusta to assess their schools. "Every school has a success plan, a plan for improvement," he said. "And that's true of schools that are doing well. Even they can improve."

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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Additional Photos

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Students exit Longfellow Elementary School at the end of the school day on Friday afternoon in Portland.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer


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