LEWISTON — The parents of all 349 students at Farwell Elementary School will be mailed letters next week, asking them if they wish to send their children to a city school where national targets are being met for reading and math.
Farwell is one of 130 Maine schools — and the third in Lewiston this year — where federal No Child Left Behind rules have begun to impose penalties.
Besides giving parents the choice of schools, Farwell must come up with a formal school improvement plan for turning around the situation.
In testing last fall, students at the school missed targets in both reading and math.
But they weren't alone.
Montello Elementary, which has 697 students, and Lewiston Middle School, with 707 students, were already on the "continuous improvement priority schools" list, said George Veilleux, Lewiston's director of special education. Both schools have been undergoing federally mandated supplemental education services after school.
In Auburn, three elementary schools — Park Avenue, Sherwood Heights and Washburn — were added to the list for failures to reach the math target. Letters to about 1,000 homes were sent last Friday.
In Lewiston, poor test scores at Longley Elementary led to its listing as a failing school. Last fall, more than half of its personnel was reassigned to capitalize on a pool of federal money. The actions made it immune from federal penalties.
Since No Child Left Behind was signed into law nine years ago, schools have been asked to either meet increasingly higher benchmarks or to show improvement in their lowest test scores.
It watches math and reading achievement scores and has increased the proficiency benchmark by 10 percentage points each year for the past several years.
The current target calls for 75 percent proficiency in reading and 70 percent in math. In 2014, the law aims for 100 percent proficiency.
"We know it's coming," said Rachelle Tome, who directs federal programs for the Maine Department of Education. She hopes the law will change, perhaps with new standards and tests or other waivers to ease a growing problem, she said.
Her office sends help to each school that shows up on the list. The helpers consist of about 12 retired teachers and superintendents who can give technical support to schools and guide personnel through the creation of school-improvement plans.
Last year, the "continuous improvement priority schools" list included 68 schools in Maine. With nearly twice as many this year, money for the service will be stretched, Tome said.
"The funds are finite," she said. "We don't have an endless supply."
As of Wednesday, five Auburn parents had opted to send children to other schools. When parents at Montello were given the option last year, about 12 students were moved, Veilleux said.
The relatively small number was heartening, he said.
"We found that our families have faith in their schools," Veilleux said.
Tome said she too has found that people often complain about schools in general, but they change their rhetoric when talking about the school attended by their own children.
"People feel different about their neighborhood school," she said.