High schools that scored A’s in the statewide report card released Thursday include Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Greely High School in Cumberland, Scarborough, Wells-Ogunquit, Yarmouth and York.

High schools that scored D’s include Lewiston, Auburn’s Edward Little, Old Orchard Beach, Telstar Regional High School in Bethel, Searsport District High School, Skowhegan High School and Dexter Regional High School.

High schools that got F’s were Eastport’s Shead High School, Lee Academy, Rumford’s Mountain Valley High School, Van Buren High School, Corinth’s Central High School and Washington County’s Jonesport-Beals High School.

Research points to what shows on the list: Schools in poorer communities often have lower grades.

The state average of students from low-income families eligible for free or reduced lunches is 44.8 percent. Lower-scoring schools often have larger populations of children receiving free or reduced lunches.

In Falmouth, the FRL percentage is 4.6; in Cape Elizabeth, 7; Greely, 7.7; Yarmouth, 9.2; York, 14.5; Scarborough, 15.

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Lewiston’s FRL is 64 percent; Rumford’s Mountain Valley is 70.7 percent; Lee Academy, 65.2 percent; Jonesport-Beal is 67.2 percent; and Searsport is 63.5 percent.

Education guru David Silvernail said the evidence clearly shows a relationship between poverty and student achievement.

“As the percent of poverty increases in a school, student performance declines,” Silvernail said Thursday. The poverty level in a school is the single best predictor of student performance, he said.

Silvernail, a professor and director of the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine, was a lead author of a January report titled “The Relationships Between School Poverty and Student Achievement in Maine.”

Another big predictor of individual student performance is the parents’ income level and education. Families with more resources and higher education “can provide their support to children,” Silvernail said. “In some cases, those parents have more time. They don’t have to hold down two jobs.”

But student achievement isn’t all about wealth or poverty. A student can come from a low-income family and be a high achiever, especially when parents are engaged in their child’s education.

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And if a school has a high number of poorer students, that doesn’t automatically mean performance will be low. “We have schools defeating the odds,” Silvernail said.

Mt. Abram High School, in Salem Township near Kingfield, has a FRL population of 60 percent, and got a B. But Principal Marco Aliberti said he didn’t agree with the report card system. “It’s only one day, one test,” he said.

The president of the Maine Education Association agreed that the report cards and grades don’t achieve anything. “They are based all on test scores. They are not accurate,” Lois Kilby-Chesley said.

“There’s no value to the A to F scores,” she said. “What they do is shame and blame. It’s a way to be punitive. The grades draw attention to schools that have challenges. They say, ‘You’re not as good as school X.’ There’s no value in being punitive to schools.”

Schools need community support, she said, which the grades may not encourage.

“Schools reflect the values of the community,” Kilby-Chesley said. “It goes back to the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ That is true. It takes a strong pre-school situation for kids who need a leg up, strong family members to provide the kids with the social skills they need.”

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It’s no surprise the state grades show a connection between rich schools scoring high and poorer schools scoring low, she said. “A child growing up in poverty has a hard time in school,” Kilby-Chesley said. “We see that all the time.”

While this year the state is providing information about the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches, “they don’t factor that into the grades,” she said. “They’re not using anything except test scores.”

Maine Education Commissioner Jim Rier said he heard last year that poorer schools have lower student achievement, “but that’s not true,” he said. He spent last week visiting poorer schools that did well.

One was Machias Elementary. Machias has a FRL student population of 66 percent. “And they’re an A,” Rier said.

From his school visits, “we’re learning it isn’t one or two things,” but a host of things schools are doing, he said. One is a can-do school atmosphere, in which teachers focus on each student. Poor but high-scoring schools promote community and parental involvement, and have strongly academic, universal pre-K programs.

“In Machias, the pre-school is part of the kindergarten environment,” Rier said. “They spend the whole day.” That avoids children starting kindergarten in “very different places.”

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School grades reflect test data, student growth “and what’s happening to student learning to those in the lower 25 percent,” Rier said. “To those who say they ‘blame and shame,’ wouldn’t they want to take a closer look at what’s driving the grades?”

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Local reactions

Staff reports

AUGUSTA — For the second year in a row, the Maine Department of Education released letter grades for every public school in Maine. The average grade was C, the same as last year.

The grades can be seen at 2014 school report cards. The report cards went public Thursday on the Maine Department of Education’s website at www.maine.gov/doe.  

Reaction from regional school districts:

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* SAD 44 (Bethel area) Superintendent David Murphy said he was very pleased with the performance of the schools in his district. All but one of the schools either improved or maintained their grades from the previous year.

His district scores are Woodstock School: A; Andover Elementary, C (up from an F); Crescent Park Elementary, C; Telstar Middle School, D; and Telstar Regional High School, D.

* Rangeley Lakes Regional School did not receive a grade, RSU 78 Superintendent Sue Pratt said. “We have contacted (Department of Education) for clarity concerning that,” she said. “We always want our school to be focused on student achievement and mastery of standards.”

At the elementary level, the grade was a C, the same as last year, she said. “Although we saw some improvement this year in the score associated with the C, we have put in place several programmatic changes to impact future grades.” 

* SAD 58 (Kingfield area) Superintendent Brenda Stevens said the grades reflect one test on math and English and not the other disciplines. It’s a narrow scope of what goes on in schools, she said.

The New England Common Assessment Program test that is used has been deemed obsolete by the Maine Department of Education, and a new test will take its place next year, Stevens said.

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Schools use more than one assessment to determine what students need, she said.

“I think it is very unfortunate the amount of money the state spends on one test and the management of the DOE (online) data warehouse, and it cannot fund the 55 percent (funding) for education that is required,” she said. “You are branding schools with a test that is going to be replaced.”

SAD 58 will receive 49.85 percent of its funding from the state in 2014-15, she said.

* RSU 9 (Farmington area) Superintendent Tom Ward said the report cards are based on one test. “We do not give our students report cards based on one assessment. That would not accurately or fairly reflect their educational growth. I am sure we will once again see that these report card grades follow a socioeconomic trail across the state.”

* RSU 10 (Rumford-Dixfield-Buckfield areas) administrators were disappointed in the grades given to several of the district’s 10 schools. Assistant Superintendent and Curriculum Coordinator Gloria Jenkins said the report didn’t tell the district anything it didn’t know.

“It doesn’t show areas where we were proficient,” she said.

 

The grades were: Buckfield High School, D to F; Buckfield Middle School, C to C; Hartford-Sumner Elementary School, C to C; Rumford Elementary School, C to F; Meroby Elementary

School, C to C; Mountain Valley Middle School, F to F; Mountain Valley High School, D to F: Dirigo Elementary School, C to F; Dirigo Middle School, C to F; and Dirigo High School, D to D.

 
“This is very hard on the principals and myself,” Jenkins said. “The schools and the district are in planning right now. One change will be moving Title I staff around to focus on math in the early grades,” she said.
 

* RSU 73 (Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls) Superintendent Robert Wall said the state report cards are too narrow. 

 

Spruce Mountain High School did not receive a grade this year because of the merger of all secondary students from the south and north campuses that took place at the beginning of the school year.

 

Grades for the other schools were: Livermore Elementary School, D to F; Jay Elementary School, C to C; and Spruce Mountain Middle School, C to C.

“We were disappointed,” Wall said. “We feel the elementary school is not what we’d like. We have a new curriculum this year.”


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