Phillips school commended for academic progress

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STRONG — Phillips Elementary School has been recognized for excellence in academic progress, RSU 58 directors were told Thursday night.

Superintendent Brenda Stevens said the school has demonstrated significant improvement in English, language arts and mathematics scores from 2010 to 2012.

In an independent report presented in December 2013 to the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, the school was cited as a good example of the potentially large impacts that can be made with an evidence-based model of proficiency in subject areas.

Consultant Lawrence Picus and Associates published “An Independent Review of Maine’s Essential Programs and Services Funding” and reported that not all economically disadvantaged students and communities are doomed to lower levels of accomplishment and excellence.

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“Phillips Elementary School’s version of this model has produced impressive results not only for all students, but also for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who constitute 70 percent of the school’s enrollment,” the report noted.

Demographics did not determine education outcomes for students, and teachers produced meaningful results despite the high incidence of poverty in the community and the school, Picus’ report said.

For the past 14 years, RSU 58’s elementary schools have seen program cuts in foreign languages, library services, music and art programs. The district’s Adult Education program has been outsourced, with services now provided by Farmington-based RSU 9, according to officials.

Other cuts to maintenance and custodial departments have been offset by fuel costs that have been reduced up to 40 percent, according to figures from the superintendent’s office. Many staff reductions have been avoided through teacher retirements, but cuts are possible.

Directors shared concerns that students who go to college or choose other career paths are prepared for their futures.

“I hope we do whatever we have to to keep our focus and make sure these kids get what they need to go on,” Phillips director Faith Richard said.

Stevens said Maine Department of Education’s adoption of national Common Core Standards will be implemented within a few years.

According to the DOE, Maine is one of 26 states participating in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. This sophisticated assessment system is capable of measuring the higher-order thinking in the new standards in English language arts, literacy and math, including both the content and the concept and skills. Testing will adapt to the student’s current achievement level, without the use of multiple-choice questions and other standards that may not reflect an individual’s ability.

“Their computer-adaptive design is more engaging and enables more accurate assessment of student learning,” according to the department’s report. “If a student is struggling with questions, the test automatically moves to easier questions, pinpointing what standards the student has mastered and which they have not. If the student is getting all the questions right, the test adjusts upward.”

By leveraging resources with 25 other states, Maine will save considerably on its assessments and more importantly, develop higher quality assessments and share considerable resources for effective teaching and learning. State funding will be required to change statewide graduation models, and the state legislature has not yet provided that funding, Stevens said.

“Every year the Legislature does not fund a certain portion of this, it will be pushed off another year,” Stevens said.

Phillips director Dan Worcester reported encouraging progress on the Budget Committee’s review of the 2014-15 spending plan.

“We’re trying to make ourselves familiar with every line in that budget,” he said.

The public is encouraged to attend, according to Phillips director John Foss. Budget Committee and other related meeting dates are posted on the school’s website, www.msad58.org.

In other news, Mt. Abram High School senior Arthur Ryan presented an overview of the Maine Guide class trip to Aziscohos Lake. Speaking for his fellow students, he said the training for future guides includes developing skills in trapping, ice fishing, fly fishing, wilderness survival, first aid and CPR.

Students must demonstrate they can start a fire, cook a meal, and find their way through the wilderness successfully. They also must learn state laws and pass an exam to earn certification as a qualified guide.

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