May 6, 2013

Letters to the editor: Readers decry 'simplistic' school ratings

As a proud graduate of Portland Public Schools now finishing my junior year at Harvard, I am greatly dismayed by Gov. LePage's new grading system for Maine public schools ("Schools get letter grades, call system flawed," May 2).

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Hall Elementary School student Harrison Greene takes part in a rally Thursday in support of the Portland school, which received an F under a new state grading system. The grades don’t reflect all that Maine schools have to offer, readers say.

2013 File Photo/Gabe Souza

The appeal of implementing a simplistic rating system of public schools is understandable.

However, any attempts to paint the aptitude of our schools with such a broad stroke will always miss the mark for one key reason: The stories of public schools cannot be explained by a simple letter grade.

I graduated from Portland High School in 2010 and, though it had certain shortcomings that a perennially underfunded budget render impossible to avoid, it served me well.

When one considers the myriad factors that contribute to the successes and failures of Portland High and all public schools, ranging from educating at-risk populations to ensuring after-school activities that keep youth off the streets, I cringe at the notion that a failing letter grade will help educators achieve their mission.

But LePage's grading system threatens more than simply the morale of hardworking educators.

Rather than work toward what should be our collective goal of improving struggling schools, describing schools as failures will only further stratify education inequities.

Parents fortunate enough to consider private schooling a viable option will choose to remove their high-achieving children from public education, undoubtedly leading to a brain drain and decreased confidence in our public schools. This is exactly what we should be working against.

Though perhaps well-intentioned, the grading system offered by Le-Page is a shortsighted and overly simplified answer to what is in fact a complex problem.

We must instead work toward an evaluation of Maine public schools that provides a holistic and complete assessment of the factors that influence the successes or shortcomings of a school.

We owe it to the future generation.

Simon Thompson


I am very troubled by Gov. LePage's distribution of school "grades."

This does simplify things, as the governor wanted, but to the point of being absurd.  

Yes, students are graded, but they get multiple grades, one in each subject, rather than one total grade based on limited aspects of their progress.  

My daughter is graduating from Portland High School, a school that just received a D.  

She received a great education and has been admitted to an excellent college. Students from her class were admitted to Ivy League colleges and other first-rate colleges.  

However, she does go to a school with a very high poverty rate. There are kids there who are homeless or live on their own because their parents cannot care for them. Another large group of students are English language learners.

Schools from the wealthy suburbs, ones that got "high grades," do not have this kind of mix in their schools.  

Most students in those wealthy districts have parents who give their kid every advantage.

Although my husband and I could have lived in a wealthy suburb, we chose not to because we wanted our daughter to learn what the world is about, and to build skills for interacting with all kinds of people.  

In addition to her daily interactions, she tutored in the ELL class, worked in the nearby soup kitchen and donated food for classmates who did not have money for food.  

She learned as much from those experiences as she did from many excellent academic classes.

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