School leaders said they haven’t changed what they’re doing in response to the A-F system.

For one thing, they haven’t had much time.

The high school test scores for the next round of report cards will come from the SAT that juniors took on the first Saturday in May, three days after the first report cards were released.

Schools had about six weeks of classes after the report cards came out, and they’ll have about six more weeks before students take the New England Common Assessment Program tests in October for the next elementary and middle school report cards.

In addition, school leaders feel they had already identified their biggest challenges and were doing everything they could to address them.

“We sat down and told (the department representative) the things that we were doing to address some of the low-performing students, and that wasn’t as a result of the A-F grading system, it’s what we would be doing anyway,” said Cony High School Principal Kim Silsby. “We are constantly reflecting on how to help students achieve better in school and make sure that they’re really well-prepared for the future.”

At Cony, that has involved creating a freshman-sophomore seminar with a teacher who provides extra support to students who underperformed in both eighth and ninth grades. They’ve also reorganized schedules to provide a daily period when students can get individual help on concepts they haven’t understood.

Whitefield Elementary is part of the University of Maine’s Partnerships in Comprehensive Literacy, through which the school has trained a full-time literacy coach to work with teachers this year. Based on internal assessments since last year’s state standardized tests, Principal Josh McNaughton expects to see significantly better results on the school’s report card next year. This year the school received an F.

Administrators in Unity-based RSU 3 told the department’s representative that their school improvement efforts have revolved around implementing a proficiency-based model of education, and they asked the department to help promote and explain such models to the public.

“My reply to the department was, ‘You can sit with us and talk with us, but let us do what we’ve been doing,'” said Heather Perry, the superintendent. “They were fine with that. A proficiency-based system is something that the department and the state want to see happen.”

Even before the grading system gave two RSU 3 elementary schools, Walker Memorial School in Liberty and Troy Central School, zero points for growth in math among low-performing students, the district had already overhauled its math curriculum last year.

“That’s something we already identified as a need in RSU 3,” Perry said. “That’s not news to us.”

One school that will be doing things differently this year is Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield, but that’s due less to the report cards than the Maine Education Data Warehouse that was launched at the same time.

Principal Kristen Gilbert said the letter grades for schools are too simplistic, ignore local conditions and can cause incorrect assumptions about school quality. She considered the school’s C grade only briefly before diving into the data warehouse website.

“Most people were upset about the report card, and I understand the challenges around grading somebody in that way, but if you look past that and to the resource this provides, it’s like making lemonade out of lemons,” Gilbert said.

Educators have long analyzed assessment results, with data down to the individual student, but Gilbert said the data warehouse makes it easier to view multiple years of data, create charts and find comparisons.

Gilbert identified five schools with the same grade range and similar sizes and demographic profiles to Warsaw’s so she can track her school’s progress alongside theirs.

The state standardized test data in the data warehouse, along with results from internal assessments, will allow Warsaw’s staff to do a couple of things differently this year.

The school has restructured its schedule to provide an acceleration block, during which students will be grouped based on what the data show to be their needs. And educators will be able to present more information about individual students’ progress to their parents.

Gilbert said she has not heard much discussion in the general community about the report card or the data warehouse, but she expects public interest in the data to increase once the school starts presenting more of it to parents.

Samantha Warren, department of education spokeswoman, said statements by administrators about not changing course don’t mean the report cards haven’t affected education.

“It’s not surprising that schools are going to say that they’ve been working on improvement initiatives well before A-F, and many of them have,” she wrote in an email. “But the public is now better informed and engaged in education in our state, which is always a good thing, and for some schools, this was just the spark they needed to get buy-in within their building or in the community outside of it to move forward on making changes that will better student outcomes.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]