PORTLAND (AP) – The Maine education department is mailing out letters containing bad news for some school districts.

About 20 percent of public schools that are failing to meet new federal goals for reading and math proficiency are included on the state Education Department’s new list of low performers.

As many as 150 of the state’s 697 public schools will make the list, said Deputy Commissioner Patrick Phillips. That’s a big increase under new federal rules. Last year 24 schools were listed.

The new goals are required as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The law seeks to hold local schools accountable for the academic performance of all students.

Letters that are being mailed this week will notify superintendents which schools in their districts, if any, have made the list.

But state officials won’t release the list to the public until local school officials have a chance to review the data and file appeals. State officials are also doublechecking the data.

Last year, most of the schools that made the list did so because their students scored low in math on the Maine Educational Assessment. The MEA is the state standardized test that Maine students take in fourth, eighth and 11th grades. A few schools also had low MEA scores in reading.

The schools were identified using a formula that looked mainly at the number of students who scored in the lowest performance category.

No Child Left Behind now requires states to establish a starting point for proficiency that is based on the score achieved by about 80 percent of all students. Morever, all “subgroups” in each grade-level are required to meet the same standard.

The subgroups include students in special education programs, Title 1 programs, students from low-income families, and students who are Hispanic, African-American or identify themselves as mixed race.

Students in these subgroups historically have not performed as well on standardized tests. This makes the new standard much more difficult to meet, Phillips said.

Although state officials support the spirit of the law, he said, they worry that it is so complicated that it will confuse the public and lead some to conclude that Maine’s schools are failing.

“I don’t accept that as true,” Phillips said. “There are a number of indicators showing that Maine schools are doing a good job.”

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