Last week, Democrats held a press conference announcing a bill I am sponsoring as well as a number of bills this session that will support education at every level, from early childhood through college. My measure proposes a new school evaluation system.

It is clear that the governor’s “A” through “F” school grading system is not working. It is based on standardized test scores which are a more accurate assessment of socio-economic status of students rather than educational effectiveness. The grading system was created without input from teachers, parents, or other stakeholders and is based on a bell curve which requires that a number of schools to be rated as failing or below average.

The governor’s grading system is arbitrary, and it shames schools, teachers, and students.

We need an evaluation system based on student progress, not a snapshot in time taken from standardized tests, an evaluation system that accurately assesses the full scope of our schools’ programs, and an evaluation system crafted with input by the people most affected: teachers and students.

We need an evaluation system formed with input from lawmakers, education experts, and interested parties (including administrators, teachers, parents, and students) that highlights best practices while facilitating and encouraging improvement. The governor’s grades do not give schools any tools to improve.

An effective evaluation system would not stamp a school with an “A” through “F” grade, but rather look at the entire picture and provide context. How has student progress changed over the past five years? What type of community does the school serve? What are their hurdles to success? What do they do well?

That is the evaluation system I feel will be created by my bill.

In the meantime, there are other steps we can take that we know will improve our state’s entire education system and benefit our students.

We know that the earlier children begin their education the better they perform throughout school, and that it’s more cost effective to invest in early education. That’s why my colleague Sen. Tuttle introduced a measure this session that would support early childhood education in Maine by restoring the cuts made last session to Head Start.

While we are strengthening the education of our future workforce, we want to assist those who are already working. This session’s workforce committee unanimously supported an omnibus measure which encompasses many opportunities to help Mainers find and acquire skills needed for good-paying jobs, and will help close the skills gap in Maine, benefiting both individual Mainers and our economy as a whole. It includes a scholarship fund for Mainers that started, but never completed their degrees and provides funding to community colleges to reduce wait lists and diversify program offerings.

These bills, along with others this session, will make significant contributions towards strengthening the education of Maine students throughout their lives.

I have always been committed to strengthening our schools, and as others continue to make it more difficult for our schools to succeed, I will continue to advocate for commonsense solutions for the future of our students.

State Sen. Rebecca Millett serves Senate District 7, which includes Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, and part of Scarborough. She lives in Cape Elizabeth.

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