RSU 1 chief promises more focus after school grades slip

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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 Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Sidebar Elements

Report cards for Brunswick, SAD 75

Brunswick school grades were unchanged in the second year of state report cards, with Brunswick High School and Junior High receiving B grades and Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary getting a C.

School Administrative District 75 schools either maintained their grades from last year, or dropped one letter.

Although Brunswick’s letter grades were unchanged, the high school and junior high showed improvements in math and reading proficiency, and in the percentage of students tested.

Brunswick High School’s graduation rate also improved over last year.

Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary, on the other hand, showed downward trends in its math and reading proficiency, although not enough to cost it an entire letter grade.

The junior high and Stowe also showed improvement in the performance of students in the the bottom 25 percent, an important indicator in the grading system. While both schools showed improvement in math, the bottom percentage showed a downward trend in reaching proficiency at Stowe.

In Topsham, Mt. Ararat High School dropped from a B to a C this year, as did Williams-Cone School, from an A to a B. Harpswell Community school dropped from a B to a C.

Mt. Ararat Middle School and Woodside Elementary School, both in Topsham, stayed at C, as did Bowdoin Central School and Bowdoinham Community School.

Peter L. McGuire and Alex Lear

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.