Saturday, December 7, 2013
As superintendent of Falmouth public schools, Barbara Powers finds herself in an enviable but insecure position, heading a school district that currently meets all federal targets for academic improvement under the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.
Falmouth Superintendent Barbara Powers and other educators are helping the state develop a better system to gauge a school’s adequate yearly progress.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
While 70 percent of Maine's 608 public schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress" on standardized tests taken during the 2010-11 school year, Falmouth schools performed well above reading and math proficiency targets imposed by the U.S. Department of Education. Those targets have risen steadily since 2006 and now demand proficiency from 66 percent to 78 percent of students, depending on the subject and grade level.
Without intervention, U.S. school districts are hurtling toward a long-anticipated, statistical brick wall in 2013-14, when all students must be proficient in reading and math, including those in minority, special education and economically disadvantaged subgroups.
As proud as Powers is of her school district, she knows Falmouth will miss the 100 percent mark, despite its advantages as an affluent suburb of Portland, Maine's largest city.
"It's ludicrous," Powers said recently. "We're all going to be failing schools in the eyes of the federal government. It's been a standing joke within the educational community and it's been hard to get teachers anywhere to look seriously at the concept of making adequate yearly progress."
To avoid hitting the wall, Maine is joining 33 other states and the District of Columbia in seeking a "flexibility" waiver for No Child Left Behind, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan invited states to seek waivers because Congress has failed to amend and reauthorize the act as recommended by a variety of stakeholders.
The Maine Department of Education, with help from Powers and other educators, is developing a new system to measure AYP -- or adequate yearly progress, the federal term for annual academic improvement. The new measures would establish school-based targets that still meet federal guidelines. The application is due Thursday and is expected to be accepted.
The new measures, as well as state-sponsored interventions and rewards, would take effect this school year. They would be applied to scores on standardized tests taken in 2012-13, which would establish each school's AYP status for 2013-14. Maine uses the New England Common Assessment Program test administered in grades 3 through 8 and the SAT administered to high school juniors.
Maine has already received a waiver, so it won't have to use higher targets -- ranging from 77 percent to 86 percent proficiency -- to measure progress on tests taken during the 2011-12 school year, which will be the basis of 2012-13 AYP status results to be released later this month. The state will again use the 2010-11 targets, which ranged from 66 percent to 78 percent.
Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen says the No Child Left Behind law remains flawed, and he admits that the state's new progress measures would still be complicated. And still, the law will really only impact about 450 schools that share Maine's $51.2 million annual allocation of federal Title I funding for economically disadvantaged students.
But Bowen and other educators say the outcome of the new measures would be better, trading arbitrary, unrealistic targets that some schools never met, for school-based, attainable goals that would provide a meaningful assessment of improvement.
All schools would be expected to improve, they say, with the understanding that each school has different populations and different challenges.
"(No Child Left Behind) is badly built and Congress has been derelict in its duty to fix it," Bowen said. "We've tried to make it less bad."
The long-range hope is that Congress will pass a better federal education law soon, Bowen said, and Maine will establish its own state-based accountability measures to promote improvement among all schools according to nationally accepted learning goals.
(Continued on page 2)