SKOWHEGAN — The state Department of Education has removed an F grade given a local elementary school under the department’s school grading system.
In a letter to parents, Bloomfield Elementary School Principal Jean Pillsbury explained that the school was mistakenly given an F — the lowest a school can get in the grading system — when the department evaluations came out earlier this month.
The letter grade has been taken down from the department website and the school will not get a new one, said Samantha Warren, director of communications for the department after Pillsbury did some digging.
“I was shocked, disappointed and very saddened for my school community to think that we would be identified in that way,” Pillsbury said. “I know the hard work that goes on here on the student and staff level and everything the parents do. An F grade certainly was not an accurate reflection of what I see here at Bloomfield.”
She said she notified the department of the possibility of a mistake shortly after the grades were released on May 15.
“I was very confused, so I began to look and study the data from the Department of Education,” she said. What she found was that test data for a single student had been used to determine progress rates for an entire grade level, even though the grade level had been moved to a different school.
According to the department’s guidelines for issuing the grades, elementary schools are evaluated based on results of a standardized test taken by students in grades 3 through 8 in several New England states. However, schools that have recently changed their grade configurations are exempt from the grading system.
Bloomfield, which now includes grades 1-3, moved its fourth grade students to another school in the district after the 2012-2013 school year. The change means that the school is exempt from the letter grading system, but the school was still included because the department did not register the change in grade levels as significant in it’s data system, according to Warren.
As a result, the school was automatically included as one which would continue to receive grades. The school has one student in a special needs program who is a registered fourth grader. The test data from that one student was used in generating the school’s grade.
“The department apologizes that Bloomfield Elementary was incorrectly issued a report card and immediately removed it when we were made aware of our error,” said Warren in an email.
“However, we are hopeful that premature report card release spurred the interest of Bloomfield’s school community to look into their performance data so they could see where the school is doing well and where there are opportunities for improvement.”
The school received a C letter grade last year.
The letter grades, launched in 2013, are an initiative of the LePage administration to hold schools accountable for their students’ performance.
At the same time the department has outlined its goals toward moving the state to standards-based learning, a system that would give districts more flexibility in assessing the proficiency of students and place less emphasis on A through F letter grades.
“I think it’s important to look at data and look at ourselves. Bloomfield has room for growth and we are constantly looking at data for ways to help us move forward,” said Pillsbury. “I don’t want to get bogged down with whether it’s an F or a B, but it certainly is disturbing to have it listed in such a public way.”
All districts were given the opportunity in April to review data that used to calculate the letter grades and were notified of the grades two days before they were made public, said Warren.
“Unfortunately, the district never contacted us during this six week window when this issue could have been corrected in advance of the public release,” she said.
Bloomfield was the only school that was incorrectly issued a grade, according to Warren.
Three schools in the Westbrook School Department were not issued grades because of configuration changes when they should have received grades, but report cards have since been published, she said.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368 | firstname.lastname@example.org