SALEM TOWNSHIP — SAD 58 Superintendent Brenda Stevens recently expressed her frustration with the No Child Left Behind law, telling directors she considered a federal government fact sheet sent in 2003 "a declaration of terror."
She said the law requires schools to achieve higher performance levels each year, and those who don't are penalized.
"On Aug. 29, 2003, we were issued a (U.S. Department of Education) fact sheet, and I personally labeled this as a declaration of terror," she said.
Stevens said Maine schools are rewarded or sanctioned based on testing scores. If teachers have students who don't meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards, they can be fired. Staff is responsible for each student's progress, and all students are expected to graduate within four years, she said.
"This was very serious, and it was held over our heads," she said. "If a student went to live with someone else in another state and dropped out, that student still counted as ours."
Rural Maine schools, according to an Oct. 3 report from Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, were especially hard hit. Bowen reported that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan would review requests for waivers from states unable to meet NCLB requirements.
Although nearly 70 percent of Maine schools do not meet the benchmarks, students are required to take more tests than ever, Stevens said. Students who take Maine High School Assessment tests are taking standard Scholastic Assessment Tests and those results simply are coded differently, she said.
"We are measuring every grade, by boy and by girl, by economically disadvantaged or not, by special education or not," she said. "If any one group doesn't meet the standard, we don't make the (AYP) targets."
In the 2011-12 school year, 30 percent of the 608 Maine schools are "making AYP," according to Commissioner Bowen's report.
"That compares to 44 percent of schools last year," he said. "The number of schools in Continuous Improvement Priority Schools status — meaning they have not met targets for at least two years in a row — increased from 137 last year to 223 this year."
Stevens said when state and federal testing methods change, schools must adopt a new vocabulary and reporting schedule, with hours of training and paperwork that takes away from classroom time.
She expressed hope that Commissioner Bowen’s goals will generate true reform that includes measuring academic competence by more than standardized tests.