May 26, 2018
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Waiver plan would focus on Maine’s lowest performing schools

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

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Department of Education released new details Monday about how the state intends to abide by federal No Child Left Behind requirements under an extensive waiver application that will be filed with the federal government next month.

The department and numerous education officials from across the state have been preparing the waiver application for months and three public forums this week — an Internet-based presentation Monday night followed by public sessions Tuesday and Thursday in Westbrook and Brewer — represent the final chapter on that effort.

No Child Left Behind, which is now called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act under the Obama administration, stipulates that all schools — and by extension all students — must reach 100-percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Last year, the Obama administration announced that the federal government would allow states to design their own performance thresholds and intervention techniques, providing they submit a successful waiver application. Maine is expected to file its application by Sept. 6.

The proposed system, which Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said Monday is similar to what most states are pursuing, would require all schools to improve their performance by 50 percent within six years.

That means a school that currently has 76 percent proficiency, according to a formula involving a number of factors, would be required to improve to 88 percent within six years at a rate of at least 2 percent each year. Local schools would have the coming school year to design pilot programs which can be implemented next year.

“It’s customized to each school,” said Bowen, who hosted Monday’s Web event with Mark Kostin of the Great Schools Partnership, who has helped facilitate the waiver application effort. “What this allows us to do is to take into consideration where the school is today and build a customized approach to helping them improve.”

The lowest-performing schools, which would be called “priority” and “focus” schools, would be targeted for a range of support and intervention, an effort which would be supplemented by repurposing existing federal funding, said Bowen. However, much of the responsibility for designing and implementing improvement programs — including teacher effectiveness measures and professional development avenues — will fall to the local level. Bowen acknowledged after Monday’s Web event that some local school systems will struggle to find the resources for that.

“It goes straight to the resource question,” he said. “Where are some of the resources that we can find to turn around these schools? As we move some legislation forward, that will be one of the discussions.”

Bowen said schools’ progress would be measured by tracking student achievement with yearly tests in grades three through eight, and then once again in high school. The waiver application also calls for Maine’s graduation rate to achieve 90 percent in six years. During the 2010-11 school year, that rate stood at 83.8 percent.

Kostin said the new system’s combination of new evaluation and intervention tools with standards that are more attainable, compared with No Child Left Behind’s 100 percent proficiency demands, makes more sense.

“The current system lacks credibility,” he said. “It doesn’t drive change. The new system will be far more credible and meaningful.”

In-person public forums on the waiver application are scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, in the Westbrook Middle School cafeteria at 471 Stroudwater St., and 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, in the Brewer Community School cafeteria at 92 Pendleton St.

Information about No Child Left Behind/Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the state’s waiver application is available at

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