State says 2nd South Portland school is failing

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Skillin Elementary School dropped two letter grades to an F in the report card released last week by the state Department of Education.

The school joins James O. Kaler Elementary School, which earned another F grade this year, on the state’s list of failing schools.

“Blech,” Skillin Principal Lucretia Bagley groaned in an interview this week. “We think it’s an anomaly.”

This is the second year of the annual assessments meant “to bring transparency and accountability” to school performance, according to a boilerplate from the DOE report. Using a generic A-to-F scale, the assessment measures third- through twelfth-grade student proficiency and improvement from standardized tests taken each fall in literacy and math. 

The city’s other three elementary schools received the same grades as last year, an A for Dyer, a B for Small, and a C for Brown. Mahoney Middle School went up a grade from a B to a C, and Memorial received the same C as last year. 

South Portland High School also earned another B this year. 

Educators have criticized the assessment as being too simplistic, and for not taking into account the socio-economic status of students at the school. More than half of students at both Kaler and Skillin qualify for free-or-reduced-price lunches, compared with the 20-30 percent range for the other South Portland schools. 

Since the standardized test for elementary school students, the New England Common Assessment Program, will be replaced next year with the new Smarter Balanced assessments, Bagley said she had her teachers spend less time on test preparation this year. That was her only guess as to why her school’s grade dropped so dramatically.

“It’s one test on one day,” she said. “It’s really not, in my mind, a good measure of what we’re doing. That’s the only thing I can come up with.”

The announcement of the grade happened to fall on Skillin’s community night May 15, where Bagley said she and her staff were flooded with parent support.

“They came in and wrote a big sign that said ‘F=Fabulous,’” she said. 

Still, Bagley said, the teachers and staff at Skillin felt like they “were hit in the gut.”

“When you see teachers working so hard, and for that to happen, who wants to hear your school has an F?” she said. 

As a result of last year’s failing grade, Kaler school applied for a $1.6 million Title I school improvement grant and committed to swapping Principal Diane Lang with Dora L. Small Elementary School Principal Bonnie Hicks. The school will find out June 1 whether it received the grant. 

Lang said this year’s grade “just confirms things we already knew” and that the school will “ignore the F, because it’s insulting and not helpful.”

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.

Sidebar Elements

A’s, B’s in Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth

Scarborough schools fared slightly better this year on the Maine Department of Education report cards, with Scarborough High School and Wentworth Intermediate School both advancing from B to A. 

Scarborough Middle School dropped from an A to a B. Elementary schools in Scarborough are not measured by this assessment, because there are no standardized tests for students in kindergarten through second grade. 

Although Superintendent of Schools George Entwistle said he was pleased with the grades, he finds them unsatisfactory measurements of school performance. 

“I think that it, in some ways, is a little bit of an old-fashioned way to be thinking about these organizations that are really very complex, and students whose needs are very complex,” Entwistle said. “To simplify to A,B,C,F – I don’t think you’ll find any educator who thinks that’s a good idea.”

While Cape Elizabeth’s middle and high schools maintained their A grades, Pond Cove Elementary School dropped from an A to a B.

“We were disappointed but not surprised,” Superintendent Meredith Nadeau said of Pond Cove’s score. “It’s not news to us that our lowest quartile students aren’t making the growth we might expect. It’s something that’s been a target area in our strategic plan already. We’ve been working on our intervention model across the district for students.”

Nadeau said summer education opportunities and full-day kindergarten, which is expected to expand to all students next year, will help keep students on track.

“We still think we have a great school with great staff and teachers,” she said.

— Shelby Carignan and Brendan Twist