May 11, 2013

Letters to the editor: Grades offer accurate view of schools

Complaints about the release of A-F grades for Maine schools include that they: a) mostly reflect socioeconomic status; b) were downgraded when at least 95 percent of the students didn't take the state assessment tests; c) measured only math and English; d) included students who are learning English; and e) don't use "a holistic and complete assessment of the factors that influence the successes or shortcomings of a school," whatever that means ("Letters to the editor: Readers decry 'simplistic' school ratings," May 6).

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Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and Gov. LePage unveil the state’s new school grading system at the Maine State Library on May 1. Readers agree with LePage and Bowen that the system is a good way to hold schools accountable.

2013 Kennebec Journal File Photo/Joe Phelan

The critics confused two separate issues.

First, measurement with a single set of criteria allows the schools' performance to be compared directly, without regard to reasons for the differences.

This is valid because it gives a bottom-line result. In real life, employers hire qualified candidates. They don't care why an unqualified candidate is unqualified.

Identifying the reasons for low school ratings is an entirely different question, one more profitably addressed using the results to improve performance in teaching math and English, instead of complaining about the test.

After all, for what public schools cost us, the real question is results. Can they can turn out graduates who don't need remedial high school instruction after they get into college?

Finally, this illogical "solution" from one of our state legislators ("Schools get letter grades, call system flawed," May 1): "The governor should be marketing our state and not shaming our students and driving down our property values."

Huh? It's possible to shame the students just because their administrators are found wanting?

Driving down property values? This is the effect of poor public schools, not the cause. With thinking like that, it's no wonder the public schools are in trouble.

Paul S. Bachorik

Falmouth

Letter grades for our schools are simple, easy to understand and provide a manner in which to compare performance results between schools.

It is unfortunate that those communities with greater poverty and lower incomes have produced schools with lower grades. And yes, it is unfortunate that although teachers in those schools work just as hard as teachers in higher-performing schools, the grades may not reflect that effort. However, low incomes and poverty are no reason to curve a grading scale.

The grading program is designed to place additional focus on the poorer-performing schools to elevate results. We must redirect the opposition and passion toward embracing this process and work toward countering the effects of low incomes and poverty on student performance.

If students at poor-performing schools have fewer options for after-school care, the community must be focused toward developing alternatives to provide that care.

If students in poor-performing schools lack tutoring options, the community needs to develop alternatives to provide that tutoring.

If students in poor-performing schools need one-on-one reading mentors, the community should find a way to provide those mentors.

And by the way, this is a local community responsibility and not necessarily a state or federal government responsibility. If part of the solution is to direct additional funding toward those schools with lower grades, then just like your personal budget, those funds must be offset by reductions in other spending.

The grading process and the surrounding publicity have provided a rare opportunity to expose our school performance for what it is. Let's focus the debate on exploring ways in which to provide our students with the resources necessary to produce Grade A schools and away from the negativity and politics that routinely surround these issues.

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