AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s standing has slipped six places in the latest edition of an annual ranking of the nation’s education systems.
The survey, done by the publisher of Education Week magazine, cited a lack of clarity in Maine’s academic standards and few in-state examples of using student performance to evaluate teachers, among other factors.
While Maine’s raw score in the 2011 Quality Counts survey changed little, the Pine Tree State’s ranking slipped to 27th in the report that grades the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in six policy areas, including academic standards, teacher quality, school finance and overall achievement.
Maine ranked 21st in 2010.
The survey isn’t earth-shattering, but it could prove useful for informing policymakers, said Steve Bowen, a senior policy adviser on education issues to Gov. Paul LePage.
“I think it’s good to get someone from outside looking over our shoulder and seeing what we’re doing,” he said.
Maine ranked in the top tier of states on overall student achievement, 15th; school finance policies, 10th; and policies that emphasize smoother transitions among pre-kindergarten, school, the workplace and college, 11th.
But the state’s standing on policies that emphasize the quality of academic standards and teacher quality brought down Maine’s standing overall.
“The accountability is the key piece,” Bowen said. “We don’t close failing schools. We don’t fire ineffective teachers.”
Maine ranked 49th — ahead of only Montana and Nebraska — in the survey portion on academic standards, which was completed for the 2010 survey.
The state lost points because its standards don’t outline expectations by grade level; instead, the Maine Learning Results explain expectations by grade range.
Maine also suffered because it doesn’t financially reward the highest performing schools and has no formal enforcement mechanism to boost academic performance in all schools that score poorly on state tests.
Maine policy requires schools that fall short of meeting federal benchmarks for two consecutive years to create state-approved school improvement plans. But the policy extends only to schools that receive federal Title I funds earmarked for low-income students.
The 2011 Quality Counts survey comes as Maine transitions to a new set of academic standards — the Common Core state standards — that 40 states have adopted.
While Maine has provisionally adopted the Common Core standards — which outline student expectations by grade level — legislators and LePage will make the final decision in the coming months. Bowen said LePage hasn’t made up his mind yet on adopting the national standards.
Maine also scored low in the area that evaluated state policies aimed at training and retaining good teachers, ranking 31st.
The state lost points because it requires no formal training for the administrators who evaluate teachers, and state policy doesn’t tie teacher evaluations to student performance.
“People are frustrated with the amount of testing,” Bowen said. “I think the question is, are you using the assessment that you’re doing to improve teaching and learning? I think there’s districts that just don’t do it.”
Maine also lost points in the survey because there’s no mechanism in place to hold the colleges and universities that train teachers accountable for their classroom performance, or to provide teachers incentives to teach hard-to-staff subjects in hard-to-staff schools.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.