May 2, 2013

Schools get letter grades, call system flawed

Gov. LePage says students will benefit as 75% of Maine’s schools get a C or worse.

By Noel K. Gallagher
Staff Writer

and Susan McMillan
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The LePage administration unveiled a sweeping statewide grading system for public schools Wednesday that immediately drew sharp criticism from educators, who said it stigmatizes schools in poorer communities.

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During a meeting with staff, East End Community School Principal Marcia Gendron holds up the report card indicating a letter grade of F that the school received Wednesday after the LePage administration released its new education grading system.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Gov. Paul LePage and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen unveiled the state's new A-F school grading system today, May 1, 2013, at the Maine State Library.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Breakdown of all Maine schools, by grade*:

Elementary Schools (grades 3-8)
Grade, number of schools, percentage.
A - 50 schools, 12 percent
B - 55 schools, 13 percent
C - 233 schools, 56 percent
D - 48 schools, 11 percent
F - 32 schools, 8 percent

High schools
Grade, number of schools, percentage.
A - 10 schools, 8 percent
B - 20 schools, 16 percent
C - 55 schools, 45 percent
D - 28 schools, 23 percent
F - 9 schools, 7 percent

* 30 elementary schools and 7 high schools were exempted from the calculation because they were new or lacked sufficient data for scoring.

– Source: Maine Department of Education

The A-to-F system, a hallmark of the governor’s education reform efforts, drew support from those who say the grades are a way to let parents gauge how well their children’s schools are performing.

Statewide, the majority of high schools and elementary schools received C grades.

Among elementary schools, only 12 percent got A’s and 13 percent got B’s. Only 8 percent of high schools got A’s and 16 percent got B’s.

At a news conference at the Maine State Library, Gov. Paul LePage said the grades will make schools accountable. He was surrounded by about a dozen Maine students and several international students, who LePage said are enrolled in schools around Bangor and Ellsworth.

“We grade all our children, and now all we’re doing is taking data that’s in the filing cabinets and putting it out so parents, teachers, administrators, anyone and everyone interested in the schools, in a school system in Maine, to see how they’re doing,” LePage said.

“I want the good schools to be rewarded,” he said, “and those that aren’t doing as well, we want to be able to help them.

“It’s for our kids,” he said. “We need to put our kids first. ... These kids are our future for our state, country and the world.”

Rob Walker, executive director of the Maine Education Association, criticized the grading system’s methodology. He said the system gives failing grades to schools with the most students in free and reduced-price lunch programs, indicating socioeconomic factors affect a school’s grade.

The MEA, the state’s largest teachers union, noted that in the high schools that got A’s, just 9 percent of the students receive free and reduced-price lunch. In the schools that got F’s, an average of 61 percent get free and reduced-price lunch.

The elementary schools that received F grades have an average of 67 percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, and the schools that got A’s have an average of 25 percent of students on free and reduced-price lunch.

In the Portland area, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Yarmouth, wealthier communities known for high-performing schools, got A’s for all of their schools.

Walker said research has shown that students who receive free or reduced-price lunch tend to score lower on standardized tests, which are part of the grading system.

He said the grading system will affect Maine communities.

“If you have a system with F’s, you’re going to create a system where businesses, Realtors, parents lose faith in the community because the snapshot is incomplete,” he said. “There are lots of great things going on at these schools that they mentioned, but they got an F.”

The letter-grade plan is the latest education initiative of LePage, who has been sharply critical of public schools. Since he took office in January 2011, the state has opened charter schools and launched a teacher evaluation plan.

His education initiatives, including the letter grades, are closely aligned with reforms pushed by a conservative education reform movement that is sweeping the nation. High-profile leaders include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former District of Columbia  Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Craig Wallace, Maine director of StudentsFirst, Rhee’s organization, praised the state’s new system.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Cecilia Joyce, a third-grade teacher at the East End Community School, listens along with other teachers as Principal Marcia Gendron addresses staff about the F grade the school received on Wednesday, after the LePage administration released its new education grading system.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer


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Today's poll: Letter grades for schools

Do you think the state’s letter grades for public schools are an accurate measure of their quality?



View Results