AUGUSTA — Fewer Maine schools are clearing the ever-rising bar set by No Child Left Behind.

According to a report released Monday by the Maine Department of Education, only 184 of the state’s 608 schools — 30.2 percent — are making “adequate yearly progress” toward the goal of all students reaching proficiency by 2013-14.

Last year, 44 percent of Maine’s schools were designated as “making adequate yearly progress,” based on results from standardized testing the previous year. Two years ago, it was 60 percent.

The number of schools in “continuous improvement priority schools status” — meaning they have not met improvement targets two years in a row — is also higher in the new report, at 223. That’s up from 137 last year.

Maine’s students aren’t backsliding; their test scores have held steady in the last five years and have risen in some areas, Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said.

However, those gains haven’t kept pace with the benchmarks set by No Child Left Behind. For example, this year’s proficiency benchmarks rose 7 percentage points for 11th-grade reading, and 12 percentage points for 11th-grade mathematics.

“We’re on the very steep portion of that curve,” said Rich Abramson, superintendent of Regional School Unit 38. “The first few years that No Child Left Behind was in place, the slope of the progress needing to be made was not as steep as it is now.”

RSU 38’s high school, Maranacook Community High School in Readfield, made adequate yearly progress last year but did not meet reading targets this year and was placed into “monitor” status.

If schools in “monitor” status meet targets the next year, they return to “making adequate yearly progress.” If they fail to meet targets for a second consecutive year, they are placed into “continuous improvement” status and subject to additional state scrutiny.

Many educators believe that No Child Left Behind, the education reform law championed by President George W. Bush, sets unrealistic expectations and needs to be overhauled; but the law has been up for reauthorization since 2007 with no action by Congress.

Late last month, President Barack Obama announced the federal government would release states from some provisions of No Child Left Behind and allow them to design their own accountability systems.

Maine will submit its application for a waiver by mid-February. A possible Nov. 14 deadline was too soon, Connerty-Marin said.

The most significant component of Maine’s application will be a new way of assessing student growth, Connery-Marin said — one that will involve more than looking at the percentage of students testing at grade level.

“People often ask the question, ‘If you have students who are disadvantaged, or they have disabilities, doesn’t that penalize a school?’ It does, to a certain extent, under the current system,” he said. “We need to look at what kind of progress is being made over the course of the year.”

The department is still in the early stages of writing its waiver application. Last week, state officials answered questions from 96 superintendents and other administrators on a conference call.

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen probably will set up a small group inside the department and solicit feedback from around the state, Connerty-Marin said.

Regional School Unit 11 Superintendent Pat Hopkins said she supports the growth model of measuring progress.

In her district, which includes Gardiner, West Gardiner, Randolph and Pittston, students are taking Northwest Evaluation Association tests over the course of the year to identify their individual needs.

Although Helen Thompson School in West Gardiner slipped from “making adequate yearly progress” to “monitor” this year, Hopkins credited the use of NWEA test data for improvement at Laura E. Richards School in Gardiner, which is in improvement status.

“The reason they’re on hold is all of the extensive work that they did using the NWEA data, tracking where the students were and really identifying any areas of need and giving the students the support they needed,” Hopkins. “Their kiddos did exceptionally, exceptionally well at the end of the year with NWEA.”

Hopkins said she expects the new methods to continue serving RSU 11 schools well if Maine transitions to a new accountability system.

RSU 38 also uses NWEA testing, and this year the district hired a mathematics coach coordinator to join the literacy coach coordinator added last year.

Whatever system Maine uses in the future, Abramson said, the targeted focus on reading and mathematics should boost student achievement.

“Our hope is that we’re going to reverse the tide,” he said. “I am looking forward to seeing the district’s results change next year because of the emphasis we’ve put on literacy and numeracy.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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