AUGUSTA – The Department of Education is finalizing its bid to exempt Maine from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Under Maine’s proposal, which is being detailed this week during public forums, schools’ targets would be set and their progress would be measured based on where they start, rather than holding every one to a single standard that’s always rising.

Some schools face greater challenges than others, and the new system would recognize that, said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen in an online forum Monday night.

“Maybe we aren’t getting those kids where they need to be by the day of the test, but we are showing growth,” Bowen said. “We need to recognize that there are schools in low socioeconomic areas that are making a tremendous amount of growth.”

No Child Left Behind requires schools to bring all students to proficiency by 2014, a goal that no state is in a position to reach. The Obama administration is releasing states from that requirement if they create new plans for school accountability and improvement.

Thirty-three states have received waivers from the system. Maine education officials plan to submit their application Sept. 6.

One key provision would require schools to close their proficiency gap by half in six years.

A school starting with 76 percent of the students proficient in math and reading and 24 percent not proficient would have to raise proficiency by 12 percentage points by 2018-19.

A school that starts at 28 percent proficiency and 72 percent not proficient would have to improve much faster and bring proficiency up to 64 percent in the same six-year period.

“First and foremost, what we’re looking for is annual growth,” said Mark Kostin of the Great Schools Partnership, who has helped with the application. “And secondly, we’re basing progress and end targets based on a school’s starting position.”

Schools that receive money through the federal Title I program, for schools with a high percentage of low-income students, would be categorized into four groups: priority, focus, progressing toward target, or meeting target. Those rankings would be based on absolute performance, progress toward targets, achievement gaps within the school and graduation rates.

Schools in the lowest two categories would be subject to interventions, such as improvement plans and regular reports. They also would receive additional support from the Department of Education.

The Legislature may need to set aside specific funding for schools that struggle to improve, Bowen said.

He said Maine policy makers also must discuss whether to apply the same accountability system to non-Title I schools, which would require new legislation. Of more than 600 schools in Maine, about 240 do not receive Title I funding.

The question of funding is a big one to representatives of school leaders and teachers, who say big gains will require intensive professional development and other support.

Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, said the teachers union supports many things in the waiver application, such as teacher evaluations, but she wants more information about many other areas.

Dale Douglass, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, said he is concerned about the strings that may be attached to the U.S. Department of Education’s approval of a waiver.

“We want to make sure that we won’t be trading one set of problems for another in the demands that the feds are going to make,” Douglass said.

Most waiver requests made by states have been approved. Bowen said he expects that some negotiations and “back and forth” will be necessary before Maine officials and federal officials reach an agreement.

 

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

[email protected]