The recent Press Herald article “Portland schools embrace multilingual future” (July 16) is correct in that all Portland students should get the best education experience possible; however, it misses several important points that the Portland school board has failed to address. The omission of these points can lead to a lower quality of education, not just for the children of asylum seekers, but also for all students.

Portland Public Schools is currently supporting a disproportionately large number of immigrant students when compared to most other cities and towns in Maine. This places additional burdens on Portland teachers and can affect the quality of instruction provided by them. It is time for the state of Maine to get involved. A statewide system needs to be worked out where the settlement of newly arriving asylum seekers, and their children, can be more equitably distributed throughout the state. It would be helpful if both the Portland City Council and school board meet with Portland’s elected representatives in Augusta and pushed for some financial and logistical relief on this issue. Portland cannot unilaterally continue to bear the ever-increasing financial burden of this issue.

As the article mentions, besides having to learn a new language, many of the new immigrant students have been away from learning in a school for years. It is unrealistic to expect that high school-age students with these disadvantages can finish their curriculum in four years. Many of these students will need to have intensive summer school sessions to get their academic abilities up to where they belong.

As a volunteer at Portland High School since September 2015, I have witnessed this firsthand. Besides helping to develop the computer science curriculum and supporting its teaching, I have worked as a mentor. I remember working with a Somali girl who was a junior that could not do elementary school-level mathematics. I thought to myself, this person is going to graduate next year, what kind of future will she have?

If the Portland school board is serious about equity – a goal of Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan – then it may well take five or six years plus summer school for the students to get to the level where they are truly commensurate with the level of erudition expected from a high school diploma. Long-term equity, as in success after graduation, is achieved by attaining a high-quality education. Pushing students through in four years when they have not attained the level of education expected from a high school diploma does neither the student nor society any good.

Third, the Portland school board needs to address Portland Promise’s first goal: achievement. Specifically, they need a plan to address the declining standardized math and English test scores for all students. These scores were already in decline pre-pandemic. Looking at a presentation titled The Portland Promise Metric Updates August 2019, the Maine Education Assessment test score achievement metric for both English and math states: “No progress has been made towards the 2022 goal.” The pandemic served only to exacerbate this downward spiral. Making this worse, while standardized test scores are declining, graduation rates are increasing, according to the graduation rate metric for achievement. It appears the emphasis is on quantity and not quality for the graduating students. Perhaps parents should be asking: “If my child is receiving good grades on their report card, then why are their standardized test scores so poor?”

Embracing the benefits of a multilingual future, while important, should not be done to the exclusion of pursuing the Portland Promise goal of achievement. If all Portland Public Schools students are to achieve long-term equity, more emphasis and resources need to be shifted so that the metrics of this goal are improved. In the end, mastering skills of reading, writing and mathematics is probably the best measure of whether a student will be successful after graduation.

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