Politics

April 27, 2013

Maine public schools to be assigned letter grades

Democratic legislators, school officials cry foul over Gov. Paul LePage's education initiative.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Connerty-Marin said many real estate companies and outside groups already rate schools and assign them grades.

Connie Brown, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, said her organization opposes the new system.

"I think it's a punitive approach to shame schools," said Brown, who was briefed on the system's methodology this week.

Like other critics of evaluation systems based on test scores, Brown said the system doesn't account for programs such as art or music.

"Schools are not just institutions that exclusively teach reading and math. There is so much that goes into a good, quality school," she said. "I think (the letter grading) is narrow and it's rather disingenuous."

Brown took issue with some specific measurements, including one that gives a school an automatic "F" if fewer than 90 percent of its students take one of the standardized tests.

Connerty-Marin said about a dozen schools had less than 90 percent participation last year.

Brown also noted that elementary schools are graded based on a test that is taken only by third-graders and above. "That doesn't hold water," she said.

An education expert who created Arizona's first school accountability system said more and more states are adopting such grading systems. While they aren't necessarily effective at improving schools, grading systems don't cause as much turmoil as people fear, said David R. Garcia, an associate professor at Arizona State University who specializes in school choice and accountability.

"When (the grades) come out, just like every other dashboard indicator, it isn't going to tell the public something they don't already know about their schools," said Garcia.

Garcia said his research hasn't shown that grading systems lead students to withdraw from schools that get low grades or flock to schools with high grades.

"A-through-F grading has not generated the kind of movement and outcry people thought it would," he said.

The real problem, he said, is that the grades don't provide much new information, and they can stifle the ability of schools or states to be innovative, since the grades are based largely on standardized data.

A spokeswoman for Jeb Bush's education think tank, the Foundation for Excellence in Education in Florida, said the simplicity of the letter grade is its greatest asset.

"A to F is one of the central reforms that we believe is important. What this does is bring the pressure of accountability," said Jaryn Emhof. "Everybody knows what it means."

Connerty-Marin said he thinks the public will "love" the system. "They're not going to want it to go away." 

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

ngallagher@pressherald.com

 

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