On this page: How the schools were graded
AUGUSTA — Lewiston High School, Mountain Valley High School in Rumford and Portland High School got D's.
Auburn's Edward Little, Farmington's Mt. Blue and Oxford Hills high schools got C's, as did Monmouth, Lisbon and Oak Hill high schools.
Poland Regional High School got a B.
Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Scarborough and Yarmouth high schools got A's.
For the first time, the Maine Department of Education released report cards, consisting of one grade for each public school, an initiative of Gov. Paul LePage. The state average for high schools and grades 3-8 schools was a C.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday at the Maine State Library, LePage said his goal is to improve education by giving everyone an easy-to-understand snapshot of how their school is doing. When everyone pays more attention to schools, they'll improve, he said, adding that's what happened when Florida graded its public schools.
“People get more involved as the schools improve," LePage said. "Enrollment improves.” When that happens, parents take their kids out of private schools and send them to public schools, he said.
Schools can't improve, he and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said, without everyone — students, teachers, administrators, parents and the community at large — pitching in.
In the past few years, Maine test scores have been flat, Bowen said. “Our remediation rates are too high. We hear from employers (that) our graduates are not ready to go. We want parents to start thinking about what is their role.”
The state formulated school grades from a combination of statistics. Elementary school grades come from reading and math test scores and how much student growth was gained in a year. High school grades are from test scores, learning growth and graduation rates.
But high school scores can go down if less than 95 percent of juniors took the SAT in the previous year. Last year in Lewiston, 91.5 percent of juniors took the SAT. That made Lewiston's grade go from a C to a D. Schools where fewer than 90 percent of juniors took the SAT get an automatic F.
A look at the state list shows that Telstar High School in Bethel was the only high school in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties that got an F. The grade was based on test scores from the past three years, Superintendent David Murphy said. “We recognize that we have our work cut out for us and are confident that we can work to improve this grade for next year,” he said.
Four local elementary schools — East Auburn Community, Strong, Stratton and Phillips — got A's.
And a few elementary schools got F's, including Lewiston's Longley and Montello, Auburn's Washburn, and Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico. Lewiston and Auburn middle schools each got D's.
Grading schools isn't popular with superintendents and teachers, who say some of the criteria for the grades comes from things they can't control, including poverty, a lack of parent involvement, truancy and students not showing up to take tests.
"I'm not sure what that's going to accomplish," Longley Elementary School teacher Debra Rodrigue said of her school's F. Longley serves a population of which 98 percent receive free and reduced school meals, in a neighborhood that is among the poorest in Maine and New England.
"It is frustrating," Rodrigue said. "It is heart-wrenching because we do hard work here." No matter what kind of student comes through the door, "our job is to teach and educate so every child can reach their maximum potential. We do that here."
The Maine Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, called the new grading system "flawed."
Schools in wealthier communities “fared far better under the governor’s grading scheme, while schools in areas with higher indicators of poverty were the ones branded with the majority of failing grades," according to the MEA.
“The school districts that scored the lowest are also the ones that have the most students on free and reduced lunch," said MEA Director Rob Walker. "Since when did it become OK to tell poorer communities that their students are failing when they’re faced with obstacles out of their control?”
LePage said poverty is not an excuse. He called teachers like Longley's Rodrigue "heroes."
“Let me tell you something," LePage said. "I'm not measuring the parents; I'm measuring the students,” he said. Thirteen states are grading schools, and it's improving schools by focusing attention, he said. “Look at the results.”
Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster complained that his high school went down a full letter grade under the state criteria because 8.5 percent of juniors last year skipped the SAT test, which is mandated to be given on a Saturday.
The school has a week to encourage students to make up the test. Chasing students to take the test, and to go to school, is related to too much truancy in Lewiston, which hurts student performance, Webster said.
Lewiston needs help from parents and the state, he said. “We have a truancy officer. We're pursuing court cases (with parents whose students are truant). We report truancy to (the Maine Department of Health and Human Services). We get no support from the state, from the legal system, from the welfare system.”
Oxford Hills Superintendent Richard Colpitts said the grades indicated that most of his schools are showing growth, but that schools "are not in the business of shaming kids.”
RSU 10 Superintendent Tom Ward said his district is working to support individual student growth. “We are not there yet but will continue on our journey,” he said. RSU 10 includes schools in the Rumford, Dixfield and Buckfield areas.
RSU 9 Superintendent Mike Cormier said he was disappointed his schools didn't get higher grades, “based on the quality work that I know is happening in classrooms and schools.” His district will keep at it, he said, “and I expect to see improvement in our school grades in the future.” RSU 9 comprises Farmington-area schools.
Rangeley Superintendent Brian Foster said of the grades that “one size does not fit all.” Some classes in his schools are small, which means on testing day individual students performing poorly can bring down the school's score.
One year, three students left school and were counted as dropouts. “When three out of 18 students drop out, our graduation rate doesn't look very good,” Foster said.
Bethel's Murphy said it would be in the best interest of students and communities not to give them labels, "but to instead focus on digging into the available data and examining ways to improve our efforts and support our teachers.”
In Friday's paper: Inside an "F" school, Lewiston's Longley Elementary.
How the schools were graded
Click on a link to see a larger version of the report card and to download a copy.