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

(Continued from page 1)

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?



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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

“StudentsFirst has consistently supported A-F grading for schools in an effort to provide parents with the information they need to make informed decisions about their child’s education,” Wallace said in a prepared statement.

Although LePage has said the initiative is not partisan, the four legislators who joined him at Wednesday’s event are Republicans, including House Minority Leader Ken Fredette.
Walker criticized the development of the grading system by the state Department of Education and the governor’s staff.

“They invented a system,” he said. “They didn’t involve the communities, they didn’t involve the superintendents or teachers, they invented it just to create a grade. It really reflects back on one speech: The governor says, ‘Hey, let’s give schools a grade.’”


Superintendents for schools that scored low said the announcement that their schools are considered failing was devastating.

“I felt like I had been run over by a train,” said Marcia Gendron, principal at East End Community School in Portland, which got an F. “I actually thought, ‘That can’t be, that’s a mistake.’ ”

East End Community School has been held up by state and federal officials as a success story for how to turn around a struggling school. Since Gendron took over two years ago, the school’s math and reading test scores have improved significantly, and the school has come off the state’s list of persistently low-performing schools.

The fact that it got an F, Gendron said, shows why the totality of a school and its students can’t be summed up in a single letter grade.

Portland’s elementary school grades ranged from A to F. The city’s two largest high schools, Deering and Portland high schools, both got D’s. Casco Bay High School, a smaller, expeditionary learning-based school that opened in 2005, got a B.

“What’s unfortunate is that perception is everything, and perception is not always factual,” Gendron said.

Portland Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk issued a statement that took issue with the grading system’s use of test scores to arrive at letter grades.

“In the Portland Public Schools, we do not assess a student’s year-long performance based on a single test, as we know it is not an accurate reflection of learning,” he said. “Similarly, we do not judge the quality of our schools on a single measure and instead review a range of assessment and data analysis to develop plans for success at all schools.” 

He noted that schools were penalized a full letter grade if not enough of their students took state assessment tests, and said Deering High was downgraded to a D because it was a few students short of the 95 percent participation threshold.

“If approximately six additional students had participated in the assessment, Deering would not have been penalized,” Caulk said in the release. “Similarly, Portland High School was penalized one full letter grade for participation in the exam; they were short .6% of the 95% minimum. If approximately two more students had participated in the assessment, Portland High would not have been penalized.”

State officials were quick to acknowledge that a single grade doesn’t capture many elements of a school, but argued that the system’s simplicity is its strength. People understand letter grades, said state Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, and it’s a sure way to get people talking.

“The phones are going to ring. They’ll ring at the principal’s office, they’ll ring at the superintendent’s office and they’ll ring here,” Bowen said from his office in Augusta. “It’s an attention-getter.”

(Continued on page 3)

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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