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 2)

Today's poll: Letter grades for schools

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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

That’s why the department released the report cards on the day it introduced a “data warehouse” on its website, so parents and others can get detailed data on individual schools. The system has extensive statistics, and can sort and compare among schools, or against state averages.

“We’re hoping people will go in (to the data warehouse) ... and ask questions,” said Bowen, whose daughter attends a school that got an A grade.

Critics say such efforts take resources from the public school system, further burden schools and teachers with new requirements, and unfairly allocate public funds.

Bowen and others said they hope to use the school letter grades eventually to identify failing schools and provide state money to help them, perhaps through a $3 million “school accountability” fund proposed in the governor’s state budget. That allocation was rejected last month by the Legislature’s Education Committee, and is now before the budget-writing committee.

Education Department spokesman David Connerty-Marin has described the fund as being similar to the federal School Improvement Grant program, which provides funds to low-performing schools. He said it would use state money to assist schools that don’t qualify for federal assistance under Title I, a program for economically disadvantaged school districts.

Maine’s Democratic leaders were quick to criticize the new grading system. “We are sending a terrible message to parents, students and teachers in our schools,” Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan said in a prepared statement from House Democrats. 

“The governor should be marketing our state in a positive way, not shaming our communities and our students and driving down our property values,” McCabe said. “His grading system is a cynical and demoralizing effort to advance his so called ‘school choice’ agenda.”

Sen. Rebecca Millett, who represents Cape Elizabeth and South Portland and is a co-chair of the Education Committee, said the system is superficial.

“Standardized test scores don’t reflect the accomplishments of our students in art and music, or business and technical education, or even science,” she said in a news release. “The grades penalize those districts that work to keep their students in school longer to make sure they have the appropriate proficiencies before graduating.” 

More than a dozen other states use similar grading systems. In general, the grades are based on standardized test scores in math and English, students’ growth and progress, and the performance and growth of the bottom 25 percent of students. For high schools, graduation rates are a factor.

Education leaders say letter grades are too simplistic for measuring a school’s success.

Connie Brown, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, said that assigning letter grades is at odds with the state’s movement away from assigning letter grades to students. Bowen has strongly supported the move to what’s called standards-based grading.

“I think that when you look at the results, it’s very clear that communities that have the advantages and the resources are the communities that received the A’s, and the communities that are already up against it are receiving F’s,” she said.


Several superintendents in southern Maine, even in districts that got all A’s and B’s, said the grades fail to capture the many elements that go into a school community and measure student success.

In Portland, the elementary school grades ranged from A, for Longfellow and Peaks Island, to F, for the East End and Hall schools.

(Continued on page 4)

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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