Report cards can provide learning opportunities

In a few hours, the 2014 school report cards will be made available to the public via the Department’s Education Data Warehouse.

Meanwhile, I am spending the day visiting elementary schools in South Hiram and Gorham that have each seen a two-letter grade gain since last year’s report card was released. The grading system certainly can’t be credited for those increases, but it has helped to surface success stories that can inform the improvement work happening at so many of our schools.

That’s why I’ve spent the week traveling from Washington County to western Maine to visit schools with 2014 report cards that show a letter grade or more of growth. It’s been exciting to celebrate these schools and see their pride upon being presented with their improved report card. But more so, it’s been an incredible learning experience for me.

I cannot tell you how inspired I am by what I seeing and hearing at these schools about the tremendous things they are doing to engage students and raise their aspirations and achievement. Each school has different improvement strategies, from digging more deeply into their data to empowering teachers to lead to expanding access to pre-k, afterschool and summer programs. I look forward to sharing those with you in the coming weeks and months in hopes they can inform and validate your own improvement initiatives.

But what has struck me at every school I’ve stopped at is the willingness of educators to continually evolve so they can help new students with new challenges be successful. As one teacher leader at Cony told me, “We teach our kids to be lifelong learners, so we have to be too.”

The report cards that will come out today provide yet another learning opportunity for us all. Some will be quick to dismiss the grades and the Department that delivers them, and I understand that. Others will use them exactly as we intended, seeing them as a snapshot of a school’s performance and a springboard for diving into the data to learn more about a school’s strengths and where there are opportunities for improvement.

I encourage you to choose the latter, as all of the schools I visited this week have done, and then to commit to start or continue the improvement work the report card’s findings focus you on, whether it’s raising math proficiency or providing stronger supports for the bottom 25 percent of students. Please know the Department is your partner in that important work. In conjunction with the release of this year’s school grades, we are pleased to share with you a school improvement webinar series we’ve just recorded based on the needs surfaced by the latest grades and our improvement-related discussions with you. You can find the webinars and a list of Maine DOE school improvement contacts here on our website.

Just as we hope you’ll learn from the report cards, we at the Maine DOE are learning too. Beyond the school improvement stories we’re gathering this week, we also want to hear your thoughtful feedback on how to make the Maine School Performance Grading System even more valuable as a tool for enhancing public understanding and support for our schools. Because of the transition to a new assessment system during the 2014-15 school year, we will not have the data needed to develop the next report cards until late 2015. We hope to use that extra time to bring together stakeholders from schools and the public to make the grading system even better. We welcome your constructive input at commish.doe@maine.gov.