The Maine Department of Education has unveiled a new ranking system that graded three in four of the state’s schools at C or lower. The Bangor Daily News reports that the LePage administration has billed the new system as a simple and accessible way to reward the best performing schools and ensure educators and communities can identify and help the rest improve standards.
Superintendents across the state are unhappy, however, claiming the new system is overly simplistic and myopic.
“When a school is down, this is only going to serve to kick them harder,” said Connie Brown, executive director of the Maine School Management Association and longtime superintendent in Augusta. “It’s not going to be a catalyst to help schools improve. It’s punitive and it’s just not a valid way to do this.”
The Maine Education Association has also continued its opposition to the grading system with a press release that argues standardized tests are inherently problematic as they pit wealthy communities against poorer communities with no allowance of differing levels of parental education.
Rob Walker, executive director of MEA, cited research which shows children in the free lunch program score lower on standardized tests than other children. He also noted the correlation between the lower scoring districts and those which had the highest percentages of students in the free lunch program.
Superintendent Patrick Manuel challenged the methodology behind the grades themselves, arguing that standardized math and reading tests administered once a year don’t provide an accurate measure of progress for the student, nor for the quality of the school they attend.
Governor Paul LePage, however, is standing by the new grading system, reiterating that his intentions are not punitive, but that he simply wishes to improve Maine schools. His goal is to improve overall standardized test scores by 20% within a couple of years.
“My mission is to make sure our education system gets the visibility that it needs to get throughout the state,” said LePage.
“I want the good schools to be rewarded and those that aren’t doing as well, to be able to help them. That’s really the agenda. This is not a Democrat, Republican or independent process. It’s for our kids. We need to put our kids first, at the front of the line. … The only way that we can do assure that happens is to look at ourselves and be critical of that performance if we’re not top-notch.”