May 3, 2013

Is Maine grading quality, or incomes?

Maine officials agree poverty affects test scores, but it can be overcome, they say.

(Continued from page 1)

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Harrison Greene, a student at the Fred P. Hall Elementary School, holds a sign in support of teachers at the school during a rally Thursday, May 2, 2013, to protest the grade of F given the school by the LePage administration.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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Gloria Noyes, a teacher at the Fred P. Hall Elementary School holds a sign made by one of her students at a rally Thursday, May 2, 2013, held to protest the grade of F given the school by the LePage administration.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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School grades and poverty
Explore the relationship between poverty levels and the state's assigned grades for schools by clicking the image below.

Some of that work has already begun. Silvernail wrote a report for the Legislature last year that identified and documented the practices of higher-performing, more efficient schools in Maine. He found that a school's culture and efficient use of teaching time are key factors in success.

His research also showed evidence that mirrors national studies on poverty and how students fare on standardized tests: In the average Maine high school, 44 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, while in the high schools he found to be more efficient, only 15 percent qualify, according to his report.

Silvernail is hopeful that schools can adopt practices to overcome economic disadvantages.

"Yes, there is a relationship, but it's important to realize that relationship does not automatically relegate you to lower performance," he said Thursday. "It's what you do inside the schools that counts. But it's harder work, it can take longer, and it can take different resources."

Rachelle Tome, chief academic officer in the Department of Education, agrees. She has led the state's oversight of federally funded programs that target disadvantaged students.

"In these schools, the mitigating factor is having a whatever-it-takes approach. Don't let barriers get in the way. You drill down into what those students need and what those teachers need," Tome said.

She acknowledged that some schools with innovative programs got low grades under the state's scoring system.

"When you embark on a major improvement plan, it doesn't happen overnight," she said. "I have every confidence that they will improve. Sometimes it takes a while."

Silvernail said he agrees that the grades will start conversation, and "it helps that you have some pressure from the community to say, 'Hey guys, you've got to figure this out.'"

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

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