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 3)

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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click image to enlarge

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

Additional Photos Below

Related headlines

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

“It’s hard to capture some of the issues that are particular to Portland,” said school board Chairman Jaimey Caron, referring to the city’s large populations of non-English speakers and lower-income students.

“My concern is that (grading schools) leaves too much to the imagination of the parent or the taxpayer. We don’t want people to spend a lot of energy on things that are not real,” Caron said. “I agree that it’s important to characterize the performance of a school, but it has to be a metric that has meaning.”

In Sanford, Superintendent David Theoharides said the high school’s D and the C grades for the elementary schools don’t reflect the “amazing things” the district is doing. He noted that the district recently got new school construction funded, and had one of its teachers honored as Maine Teacher of the Year just a few years ago.

“I see great things happening,” Theoharides said. “I also see a community that struggles economically. Is this a grade that measures the effectiveness of the school or the socioeconomic status of the community?”

Bowen acknowledged that the grades and report cards provide an incomplete picture of what’s happening in a school, but said it’s not possible to create a formula that includes every relevant factor.

Even in districts with high grades, there was criticism of the formula. “It’s brushing your school with a very broad stroke,” said Kennebunk Superintendent Andrew Dolloff, whose schools all got A’s or B’s. “I sympathize with those whose grades aren’t as strong as their communities would like to see.”

There also was concern about the accuracy of the data. Changes were being made to the grades right up until Wednesday’s news conference, after schools got the grades and reviewed the data.

Dolloff said the state told him that Kennebunk High School got a B, but when he checked the data, it should have been an A. The grade was changed after state officials acknowledged that the computer was not programmed to round off numbers, so it read Kennebunk’s 94.9 percent test participation rate as less than 95 percent – and penalized the school a full letter grade.

Several other superintendents called with concerns, said William Hurwitch, director of the state’s educational database.

Only minutes before the 1 p.m. news conference, the Education Department released changes to the database that excluded all of Westbrook’s elementary schools.

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

Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

Correction: The caption for a photo accompanying this story was updated at 10:03 a.m., May 2, 2013, to correctly identify Cecelia Joyce, a third-grade teacher at End End Community School in Portland.

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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