Harvard study shows Maine at the bottom in education achievement growth

The following is a news release from the Office of Gov. Paul LePage.

AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday he is extremely concerned by 20 years of education efforts that have resulted in almost no gains in student achievement. He called on his education commissioner, school administrators and teacher unions to step up efforts at implementing innovative practices focused on student learning.

“Clearly, the status quo in education is not working,” he said.

His comments were in response to a report, “Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance,” released Monday by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance.

The study reveals what Gov. LePage and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen have said since assuming office less than two years ago: test scores in Maine are stagnant while other states are making progress. In fact, while Maine spent $4,000 more per student from 1990 to 2009 – well above the average for the states – student achievement gains were the second worst in the country. In the 4th grade, Maine had the smallest gains of any state in overall in the annual rate of growth in reading and math scores combined.

In 1992, Maine had the third highest test scores in the country (out of 41 states in the study), but it has now fallen to number 12. And internationally, Maine does even worse, falling farther behind each year.

(It’s important to be clear: Maine’s scores are still above average for the states. But Maine has made no substantial progress in over a decade on those scores, and other states are catching up and passing Maine.)

The study shows that spending more on education made little difference in student achievement results. Florida, Colorado and North Carolina increased their spending by less than the national average and all showed increases in student achievement above the national average. Maine, West Virginia, and New Mexico increased spending by more than the national average, but “the results were pathetic,” Gov. LePage said. “Student achievement scores are barely rising.”

“Despite some of the highest state spending per student, Maine’s schools are not meeting the needs of Maine’s kids.  This report proves that more money does not equate to better results and we must renew our focus through reform. We must support our teachers, improve their effectiveness and hold underperforming schools accountable,” said Gov. LePage.  “Maine students are paying the price because we have held the status quo for too long.”

And while Maine spends more and more on education, student achievement is not reflected in the investment. Tweaking the status quo is not solving Maine’s problems.

“Our public school system is failing and we are allowing it to happen. There are states that are improving at two to three times the rate of Maine,” said Gov. LePage.  “The only way we will climb the ladder is to implement meaningful change such as school choice for students and families. School choice means a choice of opportunities, including access to virtual schools, and more access to early college programs for high school students.”

“We are also working on developing teacher evaluation systems in which teachers, working with school officials, agree on tough, fair and meaningful ways to measure teacher effectiveness and then use those evaluations in making decisions about teacher compensation, ways to help teachers improve, and sometimes, to get rid of teachers who can’t perform. We need more schools and teachers across the state to follow in the footsteps of those pioneering schools that are already implementing these new evaluations.”

In report after report, Maine’s test scores remain flat. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress going back over a decade show little or no movement. In fact, from 1998 to 2011, the percentage of students meeting basic proficiency in reading in grades 4 and 8 dropped by 2 to 3 percentage points.

All of this is consistent with our own data in Maine: in the October 2011 NECAP assessment, only 63 percent of students were proficient in mathematics and only 73 percent were proficient in reading. That means that over a quarter of Maine’s students could not meet the standards we have set for them. All while Maine is moving to more rigorous standards in just two years because the ones in place now are not high enough to challenge students and to prepare them for success after high school.

Nearly one out of every five students who enters 9th grade in Maine will not graduate four years later. The latest graduation rate for Maine is 83.8 percent. While Maine has shown some consistent progress in this area over the past three years, the numbers are still “abysmal,” according to Gov. LePage.

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5 thoughts on “Harvard study shows Maine at the bottom in education achievement growth

  1. Thank you Mr. Gray and Mr. Burks, you illustrate a very important point. Government and administrators definitely need to:
    1) Make sure our teachers are well educated both in what they are teaching as well as how to teach
    2)Provide resources
    3)Cut ’em loose and let them teach
    4)Show some patience and confidence as they pursue their responsibility (“give something/anything time to work before you change it again!”)

  2. A percentage of a standard deviation? That is a very strange measurement standard. The charts would have been more informative to see the absolute levels of performance across dates and compared to expenditures. (The link to the full report would not open so all I was able to see were two summaries.)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Will. If you’re having trouble viewing the report after clicking “Achievement Growth” on the left side of the Harvard study page, you may need to download Adobe Reader–a free program that will enable your computer to open PDF files. Hope you’re able to read more about the study.

  3. I concur with Mr. Gray. As a classroom teacher it is very difficult to try and keep up with all the changes that happen each year. If the federal and state government would leave us alone for a while and let us teach then maybe you’ll see the scores go up. We spend an unbelievable amount of time preparing and giving assessments three times a year. That equates to approximately 6 weeks out of the year spent on test prep and administration that could be used on teaching.

    Mr. LePage, apparently your public education was good enough back when you were a kid seeing you are a successful businessman and now governor. I’m sure you didn’t have all the assessments either. The status quo you are talking about over the past 10 years has been let’s assess the tar out of them—that will give us good scores. If you want to fix the problem then listen to the teachers and not your advisors because they are going to tell you what you want to hear. As a teacher—we will tell you what you need to hear. Just leave us alone and let us teach!

    One final suggestion, read Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators if you want some insight on how to increase scores and motivate kids to learn.

  4. I feel that I must comment on the Governor’s comment “Clearly, the status quo in education is not working.”
    It might well appear to the average person that in Maine education since 1992 that what he says is true, but what it the status quo? That is the question!
    Our classroom teachers do not get time to get settled into anything that gets put out before things are changed again.
    The feeling is that if one just drags their feet on most anything, it will change again before anything useful comes from it. There has seldom been the opportunity to realize any benefits that might be achieved because it gets changed before there has been time to see whether or not our students were going to benefit from it.
    This is even true with consolidation! Before there is time to really analyze the overall benefits or problems involved, politics steps into the picture and we throw three years of hard work away and will spend another three years getting back to where things were six years ago!
    This procedure we have going of constant change IS the status quo in Maine Education. So now if we “make another change” that will surely fix everything?
    We need to learn from our REAL mistakes, not from perceived mistakes.
    Give something/anything time to work before you change it again!

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