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Education Commissioner celebrates Washington County school improvements on first day of report card rollout tour

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Posted May 12, 2014, at 7:24 p.m.
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MACHIAS – Maine’s Commissioner of Education spent Monday in Washington County, recognizing two schools there for raising their grades on the 2014 school report cards that will be released to the public on Thursday.

This week Commissioner Jim Rier is touring the state to celebrate the 110 Maine schools that have seen their grades improve by at least one letter since the first report cards were released a year ago under the new Maine School Performance Grading System.

Monday’s first stop marked a homecoming for the Commissioner, a Washington County native. He spent the morning visiting Rose M. Gaffney School, the Machias elementary school where he and all three of his sons attended.

While there, Commissioner Rier presented Principal Mitchell Look an advanced copy of the school’s 2014 report card, which was topped with a bright blue A.

“That’s awesome,” responded one fifth-grade teacher, pumping her fist in the air.

The school, which has 66.3 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced priced lunch based on low-family income, earned a C last year. But thanks to a data-driven focus on improving literacy, the school has raised its reading proficiency by more than 10 percent, with 79.1 percent of students now proficient or above in reading as determined by the State’s assessment given last fall. Rose M. Gaffney has also worked to support its most struggling students progress toward proficiency, resulting in high math and reading growth among the students who were the school’s lowest performers on the previous year’s assessment.

The Machais elementary school is one of seven schools that earned an A on their 2014 report card after receiving a C last year. There are also nine former B schools that achieved an A this year, and one D.

On Monday the Commissioner also visited Narraguagus High School in Harrington. The RSU 37 school received an F last year, but earned a C on its 2014 report card, thanks to a 31.6 percent jump in reading proficiency and a 29.4 percent gain in math proficiency brought about by changes that have been underway at the school since 2008, including a new student-centered schedule and focused learning labs instead of unstructured study halls. More than 50 percent of the school’s students qualify for free or reduced priced lunch, above the state average of 44.8 percent.

In total, 22 high schools raised their grade in 2014, with four going from an F to a C like Narraguagus High School.

“Congratulations to the students and teachers at these Washington County schools for their impressive improvements,” Governor Paul R. LePage said Monday. “They put students first and did not settle for the low expectations some have of rural, high-poverty districts. Not only have these schools raised their grades, they have increased opportunities for all of their students.”

After the school visits, Commissioner Rier noted he was especially impressed with the collaboration he saw among educators and the commitment they have to help every student be most successful.

“The extent to which the teachers I saw today are willing to go to support their students is incredible,” the Commissioner said. “Students here know they are cared about and that their schools are safe places to learn and grow and these teachers and so many others across the state deserve our thanks for that. While these schools are taking different locally appropriate approaches to raising achievement levels, it is ultimately that dedication of their teachers that is most improving student outcomes and lives.”

While in RSU 37, Commissioner Rier also took time to privately present advanced copies of their A report cards to the principals of the Daniel W. Merritt School and Harrington Elementary School, the latter of which received a B last year.

The Maine School Performance Grading System was launched last year by the LePage Administration and born from the belief that when parents and the public are informed and involved in schools, students benefit. Using a familiar A-F scale, the report cards bring transparency to existing performance data and provide the first accountability system in the state that includes all schools and all students.

Maine schools will receive their 2014 school report cards on Tuesday prior to them being made available to the public through www.maine.gov/doe on Thursday. While the formula used to determine a school’s grade is the same as last year, information has been added to each report card to provide a more complete snapshot of the school including the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced priced lunch, teacher experience and education levels, and spending.

For more information about the Maine School Performance Grading System, visit www.maine.gov/doe/schoolreportcards/. To link to the Maine Department of Education’s state Data Warehouse where the report cards and extensive other multi-year data about schools and districts is available, visit www.maine.gov/doe/dataresources/.

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