The first six months of 2015 saw great success for the Maine DOE including these highlights:
- Successful passage of legislation supporting Maine schools;
- recognition for the State’s success in the transition to a computer-based assessment aligned with Maine’s updated college and career readiness standards;
- the opportunity for Maine students to earn college credits while in high school; and
- a steady increase in graduation rates, and more.
The following details these accomplishments and looks to the future.
On the legislative front, the Department had great success in working with members of the Legislature’s Education Committee resulting in:
- A charter school funding fix which passed unanimously after being defeated the last two years; and
- seven bills voted ought not to pass by the Education Committee that would have eliminated or diminished the proficiency based education initiative implemented in 2011.
On the national scene, while Congress addresses the authorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, Maine has held strong in its quest to receive an extended waiver allowing for more flexibility in measuring school accountability and increasing academic success for all students. Last December, the Maine DOE application for a federal waiver renewal was deemed not sufficient and would not be granted without significant changes. The Department addressed these changes, engaged in numerous conversations with the U.S. Department of Education and developed legislation that included the necessary changes in law and rules. Further persistence from Acting Commissioner Thomas Desjardin assured Maine would receive a three year waiver, which was granted on August 12, making this the longest waiver Maine DOE has received from the federal government.
The Department’s next accomplishment pertains to Maine’s annual statewide assessment. Across the U.S., the annual statewide assessments have become a very controversial issue with some states facing a variety of challenges with the Smarter Balanced assessment, Maine being one of them. However, unlike other states, Maine saw no major technological issues in the shift from paper and pencil to online testing. This is to the credit of 13 years of laptop use in our schools and the hard-working, well trained educators and staff who took proactive measures to mitigate risk and solve technical problems as they occurred.
To the benefit of Maine students, DOE has worked very hard to maintain the progress of the reforms put in place during the 125th legislature, successfully fought off limitations on charter schools, and strengthened the initiative “No Diploma Until You Learn,” known as Proficiency Based Education (strategies assuring students have met standards). In addition, the Department has raised the importance of student growth to keep up with the rapidly changing demands in the workforce.
For the first time in decades, we are beginning to see measurable results. More and more schools are reporting upward movement and change in instructional delivery and student outcomes because of PBE. This past spring, teachers who testified before the Education Committee related their hard work in developing curriculum, based on new standards, in addition to feeling reinvigorated in their love for teaching.
Graduation is on the rise. The Department is pleased to point out that Maine’s graduation rate has been on the rise, ranking the state in the top 10 in most surveys and five points above the national average. Maine’s rate has been improving by about 1 percent per year for the last five years.
Beyond graduation, Maine DOE has supported a number of initiatives helping to quadruple the number of students who are earning early college credits in high school. The Department’s recommendation of an additional $500,000 for the Bridge Year Program (total now $900,000), and an additional $350,000 for the Aspirations Program (total now $1M), was endorsed by the legislature, making these programs available to many more high school students.
The proposed increases in our Career and Technical Education (CTE) centers resulted in the awarding of college credits to 375 students in 2015. In addition, the Department worked with the University of Maine at Fort Kent so high school students can now take free virtual courses and receive both high school AP and college credits.
Beginning next year, every single graduate from the Maine School of Science and Math will receive an Associate’s Degree from the University of Maine at Presque Isle upon graduating from high school. The Rural University through UMFK will expand beyond 400 students this coming year and the Bridge Year Program will expand from 7 to 27 schools in 2015-16.
Another benefit recently announced was the Washburn Elementary School in Auburn receiving a Title I School Improvement Grant of $1.63 in federal funds (awarded to an identified struggling school through an application process). This will allow for professional development, increasing learning time, and creating community involvement all intended to help raise student proficiency in math and reading over the next five years. Maine DOE monitors the implementation of the funds.
Into the future, Maine DOE will be zeroing in on the reality that our student population is falling and costs are rising. The cost of educating our public school students has risen by 20% in just the last five years — twice the rate of inflation. During that same time, our student population has decreased by 4 percent (7,261 fewer students). Despite the dramatic increase in spending, the percentage spent on instruction statewide (60%) has actually dropped a percentage point over the last decade. This means that administrative costs are rising as fast, or faster, than the cost of instruction.
This fall, the Department will be developing data showcasing significant cost problems in every school district and legislative district, both in the House and in the Senate. The goal is to see where districts can be consolidated and ultimately where money can be redirected and saved for instruction.