Bad grades bring big opportunities for schools.

Don’t take the Maine Department of Education’s word on that — ask the Press Herald. That was the headline in 2010 when the paper penned an editorial supporting federal school-accountability measures.

The same piece concluded: “Change is hard. … But sometimes a bad report card can be a big help.”

We couldn’t agree more.

In Maine, student achievement is stagnant. Half of our high schoolers aren’t proficient in math and reading, yet 84 percent still graduate. Our children deserve better. Their future — and that of our great state — demands it.

That’s why our department gave letter grades to all public schools, creating Maine’s first statewide accountability system.

Doing so exposed challenges that schools face — especially those with high percentages of low-income students — and made many uncomfortable, but also illuminated where to focus improvements. That work — and our department’s support of it — is under way with urgency and will improve the outcomes of students heading back to school later this month.

The recent resignation of Florida’s education chief after allegations he altered a school’s grade in Indiana while commissioner there has created an opportunity for us to reiterate the integrity of Maine’s school grading system. 

To those who believe schools should be responsible for the results of their students, it’s an easy case to make.

In fact, our grading formula builds upon the very one the Press Herald anointed in 2010 — not on Indiana’s system, as this paper wrongly has written (“Our View: Bowen’s response to grading scandal lacking,” Aug. 5).

It uses validated math and reading scores and assesses how schools help individual students grow. The public availability of the data used to determine the grades further ensures our system is a trustworthy tool for transparency.

It is understandable that Mainers will scrutinize school grades, especially now. That’s exactly why we released them.

Rachelle Tome is a resident of Bowdoinham and a former elementary school teacher and principal who now serves as chief academic officer for the Maine Department of Education.

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