The latest round of school report cards, released today by the Maine Department of Education, show a majority of schools still struggling to meet the LePage administration's standards for improvement. More than 150 Maine schools received lower grades from the state this year versus last, while nearly 100 schools boosted their scores at least one letter grade.
Overall this year, there were fewer As and Bs and more Ds and Fs, while the majority of schools got a C.
"Grades are frustrating," says Education Commissioner Jim Rier. Rier says the scoring system - now in its second year - aims to boost transparency and accountability in Maine schools.
"How can we inspire them and encourage them to learn and improve? And if the grading system helps them focus attention on that area, I think that's good, because the bottom line is we need to improve," Rier says.
The latest grades are based on results of math and reading assessment tests and student improvement. For high schools, graduation rates also factor in.
Many educators across the state, however, are questioning the helpfulness and validity of the governor's grading system, arguing it labels schools unfairly and does not take into account the variety of factors that drive student achievement.
Lois Kilbey-Chesley is president of the Maine Education Association, which represents the state's teachers.
"What does it really do to give Yarmouth another A, or to give a Lewiston school another F?" she says. "We know how those schools are doing already, we know that the challenges in Lewiston are different than what the kids in Yarmouth are presented with, or any of the other very affluent communities."
Kilbey-Chesley says there's a clear correlation between a school's grade and poverty levels in the community it serves.
"There are schools in Maine that are working just as hard as they can, but they don't have the resources available to them to provide what they need for the children - the children come in very challenged," she says.
"Despite our best efforts the school is being penalized," says Lewiston school Superintendent Bill Webster. The schools in his economically-challenged district scored 3 C's, 3 D's and 2 F's. Too much of a school's scorecard, he says, is based on factors beyond its control.
For example, Webster says Lewiston High School's grade slipped from a C to a D because its attendance fell below 95 percent. "We have probably among the higher rates of homelessness, family separations, DHHS issues," Webster says.
He says schools should be graded more for how much they have helped a student grow throughout the year, rather than how proficient he or she is in certain subjects.
Education Commissioner Jim Rier meanwhile says the aim of the scorecards is not to punish or shame the poorer performing schools, but more to help them answer important questions about ways to improve.
"What are the kinds of conditions that may be impacting our grade that we'd like to see improve, and where might we look to get some ideas about how to approach things differently?" he says.
Rier says this is especially important if Maine schools are to meet the proficiency requirements in certain areas that are being introduced in 2018.
Check out the Maine Department of Education's 2014 scorecard at mpbn.net.
Disclosure: The MEA represents some of employees here at MPBN, including the news reporting staff