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Adequate progress still evades Portland schools

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Adequate progress still evades Portland schools

PORTLAND — Seven of the city's public schools have been identified for continuous improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act by the Maine Department of Education.

In order to meet the standard for Adequate Yearly Progress under the act, a school must meet standards set by the state. This year, 75 percent of a school's students in grades 3-8 had to meet standards in reading, 70 percent in math; 78 percent of high school students needed to make reading standards, 66 percent in math.

In the 2011-2012 school year, only 245 of Maine's 584 schools were meeting AYP standards.

David Connerty-Marin, director of communications for the Maine Department of Edcuation, said that highlights the major problems with NCLB.

The act requires that all students, divided into subgroups by ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender and disability status, make the state targets in order for the school to make AYP.

“It's very stringent and that explains why every year we have more and more schools not making AYP,” Connerty-Marin said.

Casco Bay High School, Deering High School, Hall Elementary School, Lincoln Middle School, Lyman Moore Middle School, Portland High School and Presumpscot Elementary School have all been identified for continuous improvement because they have not met state standards for the past two years.

David Galin, chief academics office for Portland Public Schools, said that while there are many schools not making the standards, there is a district-wide push toward aligning curriculum so that the continuous improvement status can be reversed.

“Each of our schools is or has developed a school success plan that looks at the most current student learning data and identifies areas of strength and challenge and outlines a year-by-year plan for improvement,” Galin said.

At the district level, Galin said, five teachers have been released to work on a new language arts and math curriculum and the group hopes to have that ready to present to the School Board by the end of the school year.

In addition to developing a new curriculum, the district is working on a new evaluation system to better support teachers and make sure that they have the resources to help students achieve their full potential.

Galin said that continuing teacher dedication and education are key to schools coming out of the continuous improvement status.

He said the staffs at King Middle School and Reiche Elementary School were essential for the schools improving enough to make AYP. Reiche was the first school in the state to be placed on the list for continuous improvement, but it was also the first school to come out of continuous improvement, Galin said.

He added that the biggest challenge for Portland schools making AYP is the high concentration of low-income students.

“There are very few things that predict student proficiency on state tests as well as family income,” Galin said. “We have to provide (these students) with significant support not only academically, but socioeconomically, family and physically. We need to figure out how to meet the needs of our high performing learners and the students that come to us under resourced (in order to improve).”

While many schools across the state are not making AYP, the state has applied for a waiver that would allow leniency in the standards.

According to Connerty-Marin, the new system would allow the state to set targets based on where a school is at that point in time. From that point, the percentage of students making the standards must be increased by half in a six-year period.

“Schools are not going to all have the same target, but they are all going to have to make significant progress,” he said.

Galin said that while the new system will be better for schools across the state, Portland's high poverty levels will remain a challenge.

“Because of Portland's high poverty rate, some of our schools are starting really far away from the state targets,” he said. “All students can learn and all students can learn to challenging academic standards. But we also know that we have students coming to us who have not been so fortunate and they really struggle, if we hold them to the same standard every year they will continue to fall away.”

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.