Mid-Coast school chiefs: State report cards an 'incomplete picture' of schools

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BRUNSWICK — Public schools in Brunswick, School Administrative District 75 and Regional School Unit 1 received grades ranging from A-D in a new state report card system issued Wednesday.

Superintendents from each district responded with various degrees of criticism for the new grading system, but Brunswick Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski had the harshest words for the state.

“We will analyze the documents to determine if there is any new information for the School Department to consider,” Perzanoski said in a written statement. “The grades themselves are political, a continuation of the discrediting and dismantling of public schools for the purpose of using public dollars to fund private and religious schools. After promoting Maine’s Common Core State Standards that minimize grades for students, the state’s action is hypocritical.”

Perzanoski declined further comment.

Meanwhile, superintendents in SAD 75 and RSU 1 said they believe the grades don’t provide an accurate representation of the schools, but they will use the data to improve student achievement.

“It contains areas that shows where we are doing well and areas that need focus. Any school is constantly working to improve student achievement,” RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said. “We can use this data to improve math and literacy scores, and work with students who are currently not meeting the proficiency standards on these standardized tests.”

The Maine School Performance Grading System, administered by the Department of Education, uses an A-F scale to grade the state’s 600 public schools based on standardized testing. 

A Maine DOE website that contains the full database of report cards and information on the scoring methodology was released on Wednesday.

Superintendents received the grades on Monday.

“We understand a letter grade does not tell the whole story of a student, nor does it tell the whole story of a school,” Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said in a Wednesday statement. “Rather, this is a good-faith effort to condense the reams of data the department already collects into an accessible snapshot of where our schools are today, showing areas where we are doing well and those where we need to improve.”

The report cards are split in two different data sets, for high schools, and for elementary and middle schools.

High school report cards are based on four- and five-year graduation rates, and math and reading proficiency and progress. Report cards for elementary and middle schools are based solely on the latter.

The grading is based on a bell curve, which means there are an equal amount of A and F grades, and a high volume of C grades.

In RSU 1, the state gave C grades to Morse High School, Bath Middle School, Fisher-Mitchell School and Woolwich Central School. Phippsburg Elementary School received a B, and West Bath School scored the lowest with a D.

Manuel said the test score data for West Bath School doesn’t match the low grade it received. He said DOE’s data team is looking into the discrepancy.

Despite the potential error and other grades, Manuel said he’s not on the defensive about the new report card system.

“A lot of this data is not new to us,” he said.

In SAD 75, the state gave C grades to Mt. Ararat Middle School, Woodside Elementary School, Bowdoin Central School and Bowdoinham Community School. Mt Ararat High School and Harpswell Community School received B grades, while Williams-Cone School received an A.

SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith said the grades provide an “incomplete picture” of how schools perform. 

“It’s an oversimplification and an attempt to simplify a set of factors that affect a school’s performance,” he said.

Smith said the report cards don’t account for other factors, like how students are performing in social studies and science, the availability of gifted and talented programs, and whether students feel safe in school, among other aspects.

In Brunswick, the state gave B grades to Brunswick High School and Brunswick Junior High School. Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School received a C.

Coffin Elementary School was not issued a report card because the school only teaches kindergarten through second grade.

Rep. Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick, a member of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, said she is concerned the state is implementing a report card system when the state is preparing to move away from a grade-based system.

“Yet here we are smacking these grades on these school systems,” she said.

Smith echoed Daughtry’s concerns.

“Next year is the last time those tests will be administered, he said. “The whole state of Maine is being switched to another assessment system. … There’s going to be an 18-month gap where no assessment is given.”

Daughtry said her committee will begin looking into what resources the state used to implement the new report card system and may take action based on their findings.

“I do like the idea of having easily accessible facts about schools,” Daughtry said, “but I think the methodology is too simplified and too stigmatized, and simply doesn’t accomplish what it set out to do.”

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.