School grades the wrong answer for Maine schools
Strengthening our public education system has always been a priority for me, and as a proud new grandfather, I am even more committed to improving the quality of Maine schools. Education is the first step on the ladder of opportunity, and the surest route to a successful future.
But instead of lending a helping hand to support our schools and teachers, the governor has been doling out grades of “A” through “F” to every school in Maine. We all want the best for our kids – and grandkids -- but these grades are an oversimplification of what is going on in Maine classrooms. They are top-down and out of touch, and put forward without any input from students, parents, teachers, school boards, or community members.
The school grades are based entirely on a snapshot in time: standardized test scores. As all of us remember from our test-taking days, test scores never tell the whole story. And neither do the governor’s grades.
This approach is bad for Maine. We should be supporting our schools, not branding them with a “scarlet letter” and shaming them with a slap on the wrist. The grades are not only arbitrary and misleading; they are also discouraging for our young people and our communities.
Research has consistently shown that standardized test scores are strongly correlated with poverty, family background, and parents' education and employment status. The governor can applaud himself for contributing to this body of research. In fact, 61% of students in “F” schools are part of the free and reduced lunch program, compared with only 9% of students in “A” schools.
The grades are a reflection of poverty, not school performance.
MSAD 44 Superintendent David W. Murphy put it best when he said in a statement to families, “Please understand that we are not happy with these grades, nor do we believe that they provide an accurate summary of what our schools and teachers do on behalf of our students.”
A giant “F” at the top of a student’s paper doesn’t help them understand what they need to do to improve. Likewise, branding our public schools with poor grades only discourages the great potential of students and teachers.
If we are going to accurately assess our public schools, we need to take all of the factors that come together to make a school a positive and effective learning environment, not just a few simple numbers. Last week, my colleague Senator Millett, Senate Chair of the Education Committee, introduced a more fair system to evaluate school performance that will look carefully at the unique challenges facing every school, and evaluate school performance over time. We will look at five years of progress, not a single day of tests. The more information we have, the more we will know about what our schools really need, and how we can help.
In the meantime, my colleagues are working on many great bills to help our schools thrive by strengthening Head Start programs, reducing hunger for students on free and reduced lunch during the summer months, spearheading competitive programs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, and creating a scholarship fund to help low-income students finish their college degrees.
By the time my grandson is old enough to start his first day of kindergarten, I hope we can feel more confident that Maine’s schools are paving the way to a brighter future for Maine.