LEWISTON — Almost two-thirds of Maine schools met federal No Child Left Behind standards last year. This year, fewer than half met the standards, and it's going to get worse, said Lewiston School Superintendent Leon Levesque, who called the standards "insane."
By 2014, 98 or 100 percent of Maine schools won't meet No Child Left Behind, Levesque said Tuesday, because in that year 100 percent of students will have to meet standards, up from current percentages of 54 for 11th-grade math, and 71 for 11th-grade reading.
Schools are not failing. "The law is failing," Levesque said.
He served on a national task force when the law was being developed. The original intent of ensuring every child was successful in school was good and noble, he said. But what came out in the law is geared solely on identifying failure.
"It assumes everyone comes at a level playing field," he said. "It does not take into consideration all the barriers students may have."
Those barriers include homelessness, special education, poor English skills and poverty. All students are expected to succeed at the same rate, Levesque said. "It does not pass the straight-face test."
What's important, he said, is whether individual students are growing academically from year to year.
Schools need high standards, he said, but more should be done to promote and reward success. "There are 51 ways for a school to fail. This is all about penalties."
Gary Chapin, curriculum coordinator for Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls schools, said the big picture is that schools are trying to do something that in the history of mankind nobody has done, "get to that last 20 percent" of students.
Schools have had success with 80 percent, an enormous feat, he said. "It used to be OK to say, 'Somebody's got to dig the ditches.' That's not acceptable anymore, thank God."
Poland Regional High School did not meet standards, but that doesn't mean the school is failing, Chapin said. It means it has work to do.
Most Maine high schools did not meet the law's "adequate yearly progress." The exceptions included Maranacook Community, Hall-Dale, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth high schools.
Locally, high schools that did not make AYP (adequate yearly progress) include Edward Little in Auburn, Lewiston, Oxford Hills in Paris, Mt. Blue in Farmington, Mountain Valley in Rumford, Jay, Livermore Falls, Monmouth Academy, Oak Hill in Wales, Buckfield, Gray-New Gloucester and Lisbon.
Lewiston High School, one of the largest schools in Maine, did not meet standards even though graduation rates and academic achievement improved.
"We've significantly reduced the number of kids who do not meet the standards," Principal Gus LeBlanc said. "What really impacts us is our subgroups," which are growing, he said. "We are showing improvement in all our subgroups. But you only need to miss by one student."
Lewiston High test-score averages have gone from being 15 percent below the state average to one percent below the state average. That's significant growth, LeBlanc said.
"But we're not improving fast enough to catch up," he said, because standards are being raised each year.
Maine is the only state using SATs to measure achievement, LeBlanc said. The SAT is not an achievement test; it's a test to project success in college, he said. Other states use achievement tests to measure No Child Left Behind success. It's apples to oranges, LeBlanc said.
"When you look at student growth, we've made significant progress," LeBlanc said. "We're just not where we need to be yet."