LISBON FALLS — As a state senator, I rely on high-quality information every day. I know that I could never make informed decisions that serve my constituents well without reading and analyzing all relevant reports and data.

That’s why I’m a strong supporter of A-F school report cards in Maine. The new initiative, which is used in more than half of the states across America, is designed to bring transparency to Maine’s public schools and, in the process, provide valuable information to students and families.

Parents, teachers, school leaders and policymakers deserve access to clear, easy-to-understand information about the quality of Maine’s schools.

Just a few weeks ago, the newest set of grades from the A-F system highlighted some of the incredible educational progress in the state.

For example, Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary increased its grade from an F to a C this year. This is due to impressive growth in reading proficiency, particularly in the bottom quartile of students. Principal Michael Benjamin and his passionate faculty and staff should be applauded for their efforts.

Woodstock School in Bryant Pond also had a remarkable year. Led by Teaching Principal Jolene Littlehale, the school achieved growth well above the state average in both math and reading, raising its report card grade from a C to an A.

Our A-F system allows us to highlight and celebrate this success. Now other school leaders can learn from best practices at these schools; parents can be proud to send their kids there; and – most importantly – we can give their teachers, students and administrators the recognition they deserve.

But that’s not all. The A-F system also provides additional resources and data for schools to analyze and share. Though each school is assigned an easy-to-understand letter grade, detailed statistical breakdowns are available to help schools dig deeper into what is and isn’t working for students.

The Department of Education will also be using the results from the report cards as a basis for statewide webinars. This will make it even easier for school leaders to share ideas and collaborate, benefiting students across the state.

Of course, no single piece of information can give a complete picture of a school’s quality. That’s why the school report card grades are calculated using student achievement and growth. In addition to overall student achievement and growth in math and reading, the report cards contain contextual information like student poverty, graduation rates, school funding and teacher tenure.

Going forward, there are a few more tweaks I would suggest.

n First, a more complete “college readiness” score should be made a grading category. While graduation rates are extremely important, adding other factors such as SAT scores and Advanced Placement courses would give a more complete portrait of how well our high schools are preparing students for life after graduation.

n Additionally, a fiscal rating based on school spending and student performance would help improve fiscal transparency, assuring parents and policymakers alike that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” In other words, the best way to ensure that our government is working smoothly is to give as much information as possible to the public.

In no area is that truer – or more important – than in our schools. It is a sad reality that far too many students across Maine are still not receiving a high-quality education. But by producing these school report cards each year, the state is being honest with parents and making it clear we need to improve.

It’s unfortunate that certain schools and communities are embarrassed by poor grades. But pretending that things are fine while more students slip through the cracks is a far worse outcome.

Instead, let’s be honest with ourselves and work together to improve schools across our state. With that approach, we can move closer to our goal of ensuring that every student in Maine receives a great education.

— Special to the Press Herald