State report cards show improvement in RSU 3 schools

Walker Elementary improves by two letter grades
By Ben Holbrook | May 21, 2014

The Maine Department of Education's report cards for Regional School Unit 3 showed improvement at a number of the district's schools, especially Walker Elementary.

According to the report cards, which were released to the public May 15, Mount View Middle School received the lowest grade with an “F;” Morse Memorial, Mount View Elementary and Troy Central each received a “D;” Monroe Elementary and Mount View High School received a “C;” and Walker Elementary received a “B.”

Unity Elementary was not graded, because the school is used for the district's Pre-Kindergarten program.

Three of the district's schools — Morse Memorial, Troy Central and Walker Elementary — improved their grades from the previous year. Walker saw the greatest gains, according to the Maine DOE, by improving two letter grades from last year.

In 2013, Walker Elementary received a “D,” on the state report card.

Because of the significant improvement in Walker Elementary's grade, Education Commissioner Jim Rier visited the school Tuesday, May 13. Rier met with school officials to tour the building and to meet with the school's student leadership team.

Monroe Elementary, Mount View Elementary, Mount View Middle School and Mount View High School all received the same grade they did in 2013.

Assistant Superintendent Deb McIntyre provided a brief summary of the report card data for five of the schools' results in an email forwarded to The Republican Journal by Superintendent Heather Perry.

In her summary, McIntyre notes that Monroe Elementary's results were based on the test results of approximately 26 students in grades 3-5. She pointed out the school made "great gains" overall in math proficiency, but the bottom 25 percent did not make any gain over the previous year.

The same was true for the reading proficiency results with the overall results improving but the bottom 25 percent's growth was less.

Mount View Elementary's math proficiency remained fairly flat, McIntyre said, with a decline in growth for the bottom 25 percent. Overall, reading proficiency improved.

Walker Elementary saw the biggest gains in the bottom 25 percent for math proficiency and overall gains in reading proficiency.

Troy Central also saw significant gains in math and reading proficiency for the bottom 25 percent.

Finally, Morse Memorial saw overall gains in reading proficiency, McIntyre said.

The grade assigned to each school is based on a points system with schools that receive 350 or more points earning an “A;” schools that receive 280 points earn a “B;” schools that receive 225 points earn a “C;” schools that receive 200 points earn a “D;” and a score below 200 points is an “F.”

Also, the report cards note that schools are required to meet a 95-percent participation rate for state assessments. Schools that have a participation rate of less than 90 percent earn an automatic grade of an “F” and schools that have a participation rate between 90 and 95 percent get a one letter grade reduction.

All of the RSU 3 schools exceeded the 95 percent participation rate on state assessments.

While the reports cards used the same formula as was used ast year to calculate the grades, due to the feedback the department received last year, data regarding student poverty rates, teacher experience and education levels have been added to each school’s report card, Rier stated in a news release. Those factors were included, Rier indicated, because of a report released earlier this year by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute that found in Maine, those factors were the most likely variables to impact student achievement.

The report cards also include information related to funding, average daily attendance as an indicator of student engagement and school and district contact information.

Even though the report cards include additional information this year, Perry said that information does not factor into the grade given to the schools. With that being said, Perry said she was pleased to see a number of RSU 3's schools improve their grades, but is still not entirely supportive of the state's method for calculating the grades.

Even though the methods for calculating the grades my be flawed, according to Perry, she said the report cards are still used by the district as one of many data points officials look at to find ways to continue improving the schools.

Perry attributed the improvements at Morse Memorial, Troy Central and Walker Elementary to the fact that the staff in those schools have "taken ownership" of the district's proficiency-based curriculum. She continued by saying that staff members throughout the district continue to work hard throughout the district, and that she anticipates seeing all of the schools' grades improve in the future.

"It's all about the teachers," Perry said. "Everything we do depends on the high quality teachers we have in the district."

Independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler released a brief statement following the public release of the report cards.

"I believe with every ounce of conviction I can muster that every child in the state of Maine deserves what Theodore Roosevelt called “a substantial equality of opportunity.” That requires that schools in Maine are on an equal playing field, that children's opportunity ceases to be a function of their zip codes or their parents' incomes," Cutler said in the statement. "Instead of grading schools and increasing local property taxes, my administration will reform Maine's tax structure, reduce property taxes for average homeowners by 20 to 40 percent, and funnel $175 million back into towns and cities, stabilizing local finances and bringing Maine closer than ever before to 55-percent funding for education."

Ryan Harnden, chair of the RSU 3 school board, said he was was glad to see schools in the district have improved based on the state's assessment. However, Harnden said he has some concerns regarding the system in place because it relies heavily on standardized test scores and RSU 3 is moving towards a proficiency-based education model.

"I have some reservations about the DOE grading system as it could potentially put pressure on districts to raise their report card grades, and by doing so it increases the possibility of 'teaching to the test;' using memorization and specific examples modeled after test questions," Harnden said. "This instead of allowing students to truly learn and understand what they need to learn to be successful makes this grading system counter-intuitive to what we believe in as a district."

He continued by saying the report cards do accurately represent the fact that RSU 3's per-pupil expenditures are about $1,000 less than the state average, and the district has strong graduation and attendance rates.

"We are asking our teachers to change the way they have been taught to assess students only to have the state put a label on them using the same ideology we have asked them to leave behind," he said. "There is absolutely progress in our schools,  I am not sure any of the people involved in our district need a letter grade to see it."

 

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Ben Holbrook
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Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.

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