The following Priority Notice was sent on Monday, Feb. 23 to inform Maine educators about the efforts of the Maine DOE to support the continued quality implementation of key initiatives that will improve teaching and learning in Maine, including the administration of new assessments, educator evaluation and the awarding of proficiency-based diplomas.
Welcome back from a well-deserved February break. As you know, in recent years the Department has successfully advocated for reforms that strengthen accountability, best practices and choice. The result is that our increasingly learner-centered schools will better prepare students for success in college, career and civic life.
Never before has more been expected of Maine students. The same could be said for our schools.
Our Department is sensitive to the amount of work involved with effectively implementing these initiatives at the local level, especially when they all seem to be happening at once. We continue to explore ways to make that implementation both high quality and manageable and I want to update you on those here today.
Last year, former Commissioner Rier used his authority to give districts more time to prepare for awarding proficiency-based diplomas. To date, nearly every district with a high school has taken advantage of that flexibility by applying for one of the six extension options offered by our Department. To continue supporting your progress toward proficiency, the Maine DOE will be providing technical assistance visits to dozens of schools starting this month and Governor LePage’s budget proposal contains nearly $4 million over the next two years in targeted funds to be distributed directly to districts to assist with their transition costs.
The shift to a new online assessment system this year is also requiring significant groundwork at the State and local level. In recent months, the Department has stepped-up its efforts to help schools prepare for a successful spring administration, including providing technical assistance visits from our Learning Through Technology team, regional workshops and dozens of web resources. We have recently contracted additional staff and have deployed them immediately into the field to provide you even more training and assistance.
We believe our hard work and yours will be more than worth it given the ability of the adaptive assessment to provide more accurate, real-time information about where students are academically and where they need additional support.
Change is always hard but the anxiety about Maine’s move to a new assessment system has been heightened given both the real and perceived implications of the results of this new test.
Please know that the Department has decided not to issue our A-F school report cards in 2015. Because the results of this new assessment will simply not be comparable to those from last year’s tests, we would be unable to calculate overall student growth which is such an important part of a school’s grade. Instead, performance on the new assessment this spring, which will be made available on our public Data Warehouse, will establish a new benchmark. It will only be in the fall of 2016 when we have two years of student achievement data that we will again be able to measure how schools are doing and release the next round of report cards.
You may have also recently heard that the U.S. Department of Education threatened to revoke Maine’s ESEA waiver if we did not require State assessment scores be used as at least one of the measures of student growth taken into account when evaluating applicable teachers and principals in local Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth (PEPG) systems. Losing the waiver would result in every Maine school being labeled as failing and greatly restrict how Title I funding could be used by districts. Because Washington state recently lost its waiver for this very same reason, we have drafted an update to our rules to bring them into alignment with these federal expectations and will be seeking legislative approval of those in the coming weeks. Legislation is also currently being considered to give local districts flexibility to extend their PEPG system pilot another year if that additional time is needed to bring those systems into alignment with this expected change to the student growth measures.
You can expect to hear from us as soon as these proposed revisions work their way through the legislative process and we can provide more details. In the meantime, please know the Governor has included in his budget proposal $5 million in new funding over the next two years so the Department can provide more professional development to those working in their districts to develop and implement educator evaluation.
To reiterate, as part of our ongoing efforts to support your meaningful implementation of new systems that improve the college and career readiness of our students, the Department is committed to:
- Providing $4 million to support districts with proficiency-based diploma transition costs
- Increasing training and assistance to ensure success of new online assessment
- Not issuing A-F school report cards in 2015 but resuming doing so in 2016
- Keeping you apprised of legislation that could extend PEPG system pilots another year
- Providing $5 million for professional development to support local evaluation system development
We hope this increased funding and flexibility helps to alleviate your anxiety so you can focus on what is most important: helping all Maine students reach their full potential. As always, please let us know anything our Department can additionally do to support you in that most important work. We are in this together.
Thanks for all you do.