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RSU 1 chief promises more focus after school grades slip

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RSU 1 chief promises more focus after school grades slip

BATH — Two Regional School Unit 1 schools received grades of D in this year's round of state report cards.

Most Maine schools received a C, as did four other RSU 1 schools, while 121 received an A or B grade, according to the Maine Department of Education.

The West Bath elementary school received a D last year and this year, while Phippsburg Elementary School dropped two grades, from a B in 2013 to a D in 2014. Morse High School, Bath Middle School, Fisher-Mitchell School and Woolwich Central School all received Cs both years.

The grade "is primarily based on how students score on math and reading on a standardized test given once a year," RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said last week. "(We) don't feel like that is the only measure that should be used to measure student progress or school quality. I don't think it tells the whole story."

Still, Manuel acknowledged that the report cards do show the schools areas in which they are performing well, and those where greater attention is necessary.

"As a whole district ... we're continuing to put focus on early intervention in the areas of literacy and math," he said, noting that RSU 1 will have increased funding next year in its Title 1 program, while will provide greater resources particularly in math for struggling students.

Alternative education will also be offered next year at Morse, which should "allow us to see an increase in achievement and growth in graduation rates for a certain population that we have," Manuel said.

At Phippsburg, reading and math proficiencies were lower compared to the state, while growth in math was above the state average. But reading improvement was below the state norm, the superintendent said.

"For small schools like Phippsburg and West Bath, you're only testing grades 3, 4 and 5, so that makes your (graded) population even smaller than what our (total) school population is, because you're not including pre-K to 2," Manuel noted. "... The sample size is pretty small, and therefore you could see that fluctuation, like we're talking about with Phippsburg."

The LePage administration launched the grading system last year, with the notion that students benefit from parents and the public being involved and informed about their schools, according to the DOE. With the A-F grading scale based on proficiency in reading and math, graduation rates and student growth, "the report cards bring transparency to existing performance data," the agency said in a press release.

The grading system has been criticized in large part because schools that have a greater percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged appear to do worse. But the DOE says many Maine schools have shown that targeted supports and interventions can overcome demographics, the DOE states.

"Our emphasis is always on attempting to meet the individual needs of every student," Manuel said. "And, in the elementary grades (we are) trying to provide as many resources as we can; if the regular classroom is not working for them, we have different avenues that we're trying to use. And this additional focus next year on ... early math intervention, I think, will strength the performance of our students and the achievement."

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.