June 18, 2018
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Majority of Maine schools aren’t meeting No Child Left Behind standards, department says

Pat Wellenbach | AP
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen
By Christopher Cousins and Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Most Maine schools aren’t meeting goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Maine Department of Education.

The low scores came as no surprise but are based on a “flawed federal accountability system,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, agreed, and said the test scores don’t give Maine schools enough credit for their above-average achievements.

According to the data released Thursday, just 204 of 584 Maine schools, or 35 percent, are labeled as meeting adequate yearly progress goals under NCLB, an improvement from the 30 percent of schools who met those goals last year. While the number of schools meeting standards increased, more Maine schools were added to a list of Continuous Improvement Priority Schools because they failed to meet goals for two consecutive years, according to the department.

While officials in Maine have long said there is no excuse for schools not making progress, they said Thursday that the standards demanded by NCLB are too steep and within two years will result in virtually no schools making the cut. Because of that, Maine and several other states are awaiting approval of waiver applications that allow increased flexibility under the program.

“Our schools are not doing worse this year than last year, but you wouldn’t know that from the way federal [Adequate Yearly Progress] lists are calculated,” said Bowen in a press release. “This is why we, like most other states, have requested flexibility to do accountability differently.”

The Bush-era NCLB, which is now called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, includes increasingly rigid standards and requires 100 percent of students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. This year, NCLB requires 75 percent of third- through eighth-graders to be proficient in reading and 70 percent proficient in Math. At the high school level, 78 percent of students must be proficient in reading this year and 66 percent in math.

“As it stands now, I think we’re still on track to have 100 percent of our schools not making adequate yearly progress by 2013-14,” said Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin. “The expectations are just unrealistic.”

Kilby-Chesley said the NCLB rankings ignore that Maine’s eighth-graders ranked 13th in the country in reading, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress scores from last year. In addition, she said 72 percent of third- through eighth-graders were proficient in reading and 63 percent were proficient in math, according to the New England Common Assessment Program.

“It is clear our students are succeeding in schools across the state and at all grade levels. We have the test scores to prove it,” said Kilby-Chesley in a press release. “We need to be looking at the whole picture. One test score is one puzzle piece. With all the pieces put together then, and only then, can you get a clear picture of how a student is doing in school and how the school is performing as a whole.”

Connerty-Marin said there are signs of improvement evident in the data released Thursday, specifically that 46 schools that were underperforming last year have moved out of that category.

“That’s an indicator of some real progress,” he said.

However, 106 schools in Maine have been newly put in “monitor status,” which means that they aren’t meeting the standards for the first time. Under current law, if their scores don’t improve enough next year, they will enter “continuous improvement priority status,” which means they’ll qualify for interventions and resources from the Department of Education.

“All of these labels aside, the bottom line if you look at this data is that we have schools that are not making tremendous progress here,” said Connerty-Marin. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Connerty-Marin said the state hopes to have its Elementary and Secondary Education Act waiver application approved by the end of this month. Under Maine’s wide-ranging proposal, schools would be required to reduce the percentage of students not proficient in reading and math by 50 percent over six years. Bowen said the new system emphasizes progress rather than strict benchmarks that schools have to attain regardless of several factors such as their numbers of poor or disabled students.

“We have instances where schools are making dramatic improvements but can’t keep up with the ever-rising federal targets,” Bowen said. “With our waiver, we’ll still set ambitious goals for schools, but realistic ones based on where they are starting.”

But Connerty-Marin said the assessment and accountability program proposed by the state won’t automatically increase Maine’s standing. In fact, he said many schools that are scoring well now could find themselves in lower tiers because while most of their students are performing well, they are not making enough progress with disabled or financially disadvantaged students.

“I think people will be surprised next year to see some of our higher-performing schools not meeting the standards,” said Connerty-Marin. “It’s going to be a learning curve for everybody, including us.”

School-by-school adequate yearly progress results for 2012-2013 may be found at www.maine.gov/education/pressreleases/ayp/index.html. More information on Maine’s NCLB flexibility request may be found at www.maine.gov/doe/accountability.

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