One year ago today, the Department released the first school report cards under the Maine School Performance Grading System. Using a familiar A-F scale, existing public data, and measuring all students and all schools, the grades provide Maine’s first true statewide accountability system. As importantly, our formula acknowledges that many students arrive in our schools already behind, and equally credits student proficiency and student growth, including how elementary schools help their most struggling 25 percent of students.
That roll-out sparked a difficult yet critical statewide conversation on school quality and drove thousands of Mainers to the Department’s website and new Education Data Warehouse to learn more about their local school’s performance and how it compared to others. While on an average day our website at www.maine.gov/doe draws around 8,000 unique views, in the three days surrounding the launch of the school report cards, the site received more than 200,000.
We’ll be releasing this year’s school grades late the week of May 12. While the formula for the grades remains unchanged so as to allow for comparison from one year to the next, you will notice some differences on the report cards and how the Department rolls them out. We believe these improvements will allow the conversation to move beyond the merits of school grading and the validity of the data used so the focus can be where it should: celebrating successes in our schools and surfacing areas needing more support.
This year in an effort to ensure data quality and grading system transparency, the Department has provided schools an opportunity to verify their data used to calculate their grades. Additionally, schools will be given their final report cards prior to them being made available to the public.
Also as a result of feedback we’ve received this past year, the Department has added school, district and state data on student poverty rates and teacher experience and education levels to each school’s report card. These factors were chosen based on a report released earlier this year by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute that found in Maine, these were the school variables that most impacted student achievement. Funding information, average daily attendance as an indicator of student engagement, and school and district contact information will also be included.
We believe the expanded snapshot of a school the 2014 report cards will provide make them even more valuable as a tool to help the public and education leaders easily identify school strengths and opportunities for improvement.
In conjunction with the roll-out, I’ll be embarking on a multi-day tour to celebrate a few of the many schools around the state that have improved by at least one letter grade. I am eager to congratulate these schools, but also to learn more about why they are improving.
School improvement doesn’t happen overnight, and I appreciate many schools will be discouraged to see their grade is the same or has dropped. I hope the stories of the schools I visit who have improved by one, two or even three letter grades will encourage those who didn’t see the gains they wanted to continue this hard yet important improvement work. Our Department has supported that work over the past year through professional development, in-school improvement consultants and expanded resources for local use, and we reaffirm that commitment for the year ahead.
The public has proven it is eager for the information these report cards provide and school/district leaders have told me A-F has caused them to refocus on data-driven improvement efforts. Yet I recognize the report cards aren’t popular with everyone and that some would prefer to ignore the grading system rather than address what it reveals.
That said, when I became Commissioner, I committed to continuing the Maine School Performance Grading System because as a father, grandfather and former school board member who has devoted much of my life to improving education here in Maine, I know when parents and the public are informed and involved in our schools, our kids benefit.
All of us value our schools and want them to be the best they can be for our students. As the Department releases the report cards in the coming weeks, I hope you will join us in keeping that the focus.