York may sic attorney on U.S. News & World Report for leaving them off top schools list

Posted April 08, 2014, at 11:10 a.m.

YORK, Maine — York school officials on April 2 discussed having an attorney contact U.S. News & World Report over the magazine’s leaving the district off its list of top schools last year.

The top 10 high schools in Maine ranking, which was released last spring, is due to come out again on April 22. Last year, both Wells and Kennebunk high schools made the top 10.

Before beginning that discussion, committee members finalized the district’s budget, which passed unanimously.

“It’s nice to have the budget done to get back to this,” said School Committee member Marilyn Zoto.

The bulk of the meeting focused on debates being argued by the majority of schools around the country: How to balance test scores versus student performance. What tests or rankings matter? How to improve student performance?

Despite last year’s U.S. News & World Report that left York High School unranked due to missing math scores, York High School was one of only 10 schools in the state to earn an A from the state under Gov. LePage’s then new ranking system, school officials said.

Still, officials are perturbed about being left off the U.S. News & World Report list.

The formula the magazine uses to grade high schools is convoluted and its collection methods are unclear, said both York Superintendent Debbie Dunn and York High School Principal, Robert Stevens.

“They are not accountable to us,” said Dunn, who added that both her office and Stevens’ has worked to contact U.S. News & World Report, but have been unsuccessful.

Board members expressed surprise that such critical information could be forgotten, but after repeated phone calls to the Maine Department of Education’s data warehouse, where such information is stored, no answers could be found, they said.

Committee member John D’Aquila suggested having an attorney contact the report’s authors to find some answers. Dunn agreed it was a worthwhile exercise and said she would pursue the matter.

Stevens said that when York High School’s math scores were included the school ranked in the top 10 in the state, and when discussing the missing math scores with the state’s data warehouse, he was told that the state doesn’t consider the report in its rankings.

As to why the U.S. News & World Report ranking matters if it doesn’t impact funding or students’ college aspirations, Zoto said it has a psychological impact more than anything.

The state, however, scores high schools on three criteria, with the first being the school’s math and reading proficiency percentages from the previous year’s Maine High School Assessment Results, which is the combination of the SAT and MEA science scores.

In the reading portion, 148 York High School students tested ninth in the state with 11 percent testing proficient with distinction, 52 proficient, and 29 partially proficient. In mathematics, only 7 scored proficient with distinction while 61 were proficient and 23 partially proficient, officials said.

Secondly, the state looks at the three-year progression average of classes. For instance, the state Department of Education will look at the average MHSA scores for the class of students completing their junior years against the other districts in the state. The latest results were unavailable from the superintendent’s office.

The final criteria is the graduation rate of classes from four and five years ago, which are 89.7 percent and 91.8 percent respectively, officials said.

Additionally, officials said that on April 3, the state announced that York High School is one of only 13 school districts in the state with a graduation rate above 95 percent for the past graduating year.

Areas for improvement were noted by the committee and Stevens’ team though, particularly mathematics, with only seven students in the upper echelon.

Stevens noted the success of the school’s literacy workshops, which began two years ago, and talked about creating a math lab to parallel the experience. Students at York High School are also looking to create a student-initiated tutoring program for after-school help, something Stevens said students came to him about.

High school administrators laid out the idea of providing SAT preparation classes and holding collaborative intervention meetings with York Middle School to identify weaknesses in an incoming freshmen’s academic skill set.

Stevens stressed the “bottom-up” approach and said that with the amount of data available to teachers and administrators, the high school should be able to identify struggling students and where they’re struggling before they enter the high school.

 

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