School report cards to be released starting May 13, will include data on school poverty levels

Posted May 10, 2014, at 10:22 a.m.
Jim Rier is Maine's commissioner of education.
Photo by Samantha Warren
Jim Rier is Maine's commissioner of education.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s Department of Education will release controversial school report cards in the coming week, assigning a letter grade to each of Maine’s public schools and districts. The grades are based on how well students performed and improved on standardized tests.

Schools will get their grade of A-F on Tuesday, while the full results of the grading system will not be released to the public until Thursday. Throughout the week, Maine’s Education Commissioner, Jim Rier, will visit six of the 110 schools that saw an increase of a full letter grade between this year and last year, according to a statement released by the DOE on Thursday.

Rier will start at the Rose M. Gaffney School in Machias on Monday, where he and his three sons attended. He will also visit Narraguagus High School in Harrington, Walker Memorial School in Liberty, Cony High School in Augusta, South Hiram Elementary School in Hiram and Narragansett Elementary School in Gorham.

The grading system was first unveiled last year by Gov. Paul LePage’s administration with the intent of making data about schools more transparent and accessible.

“We need to put our kids first, at the front of the line. …The only way that we can assure that happens is to look at ourselves and be critical of that performance if we’re not top-notch,” LePage said at a press conference on the day the grades were released last year.

Critics of the system say the grades, which are based solely on test scores, oversimplify the work schools do and reflect socioeconomic disparity, rather than a school’s performance.

“When we look at these letter grades given to our schools by the Department of Education, the school districts that scored the lowest are also the ones that have the most students on free and reduced lunch,” Rob Walker, the Maine Education Association’s executive director, said last year.

A study by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute at the University of Southern Maine and released in January confirmed that assertion.

“The level of poverty in a school is the single best predictor of average student performance,” the study states.

As a result, the report cards this year will include the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch at the school, district and state level. However, that data will not be factored into the letter grades.

Also new this year will be information on school funding, average daily attendance rates and school and district contact information, according to the DOE.

“I believe the information we will be adding to this year’s report cards makes them an even more valuable tool to help the public and education leaders easily identify school strengths and weaknesses and make comparisons that will drive the improvements Maine kids deserve,” said Rier in a prepared statement that was released on April 1.

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