SOUTH CHINA — B is a good grade.

“It means you’re doing something right,” said Jared Gartley, 17, of China, as he studied with two friends Wednesday afternoon in the Erskine Academy library.

It’s also the grade that was assigned to their school by the Department of Education, which unveiled its new letter-grading system, along with letter grades for elementary and high schools across the state on Wednesday.

“The release of the report cards today is an opportunity for a constructive conversation on school performance in which we are all speaking the same language,” Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said in a news release Wednesday.

The grades were distributed on a bell-shaped curve, with C being the most common grade and fewer schools receiving A’s or F’s. Most area high schools received C’s and a few received B’s, D’s and F’s. No area schools received an A.

Some teachers and school administrators said they think the grading system is too simplistic to portray their schools accurately because it is based mainly on standardized test scores that do not include all academic areas. They also said there is no room in the assessment for other qualities of a school that can make it successful, such as how many students go to college or how many enroll in college-level classes while still in high school.

The grades are based on standardized test scores in mathematics and English, students’ progress on those tests over time, and the performance and growth of the bottom 25 percent of students.

For high schools, graduation rates are also factors.

At Erskine, an independent school that draws students mainly from four school districts, headmaster Michael McQuarrie said that even though his school received a B, he doesn’t think it represents everything that is going on at the school.

“It seems to be a narrow assessment of performance because it draws conclusions based on math and reading scores and graduation rates and no other academic areas. However, I also agree with the commissioner that we have to begin somewhere, no matter what the method of assessment will be,” he said.

Some schools that received low grades similarly agreed that the grades were not fair.

“It is very simplistic and the results are based on one standardized test. It is hardly a measure of our progress or our goals,” said Virginia Rebar, superintendent for Bingham-based School Administrative District 13, which includes Upper Kennebec Valley Memorial High School. The school was one of 10 high schools in the state to receive an F, despite having met progress standards last year under the No Child Left Behind evaluation system, Rebar said.

At Erskine, teachers and students who learned of the grade Wednesday said they were not surprised.

“We have a great curriculum and learn a lot. I don’t think you would find anyone who didn’t think the teachers here are great,” said Taylor Bailey, 16, a junior from Vassalboro.

A classmate, Abigail Glidden, 16, a junior from Palermo, said she didn’t mind that SATs were a primary component of the grades given to high schools.

“We spend a lot of time preparing for them,” she said.

Yet some teachers at the school thought more could be included in the evaluation.

For one thing, the writing component of the SAT is not used in the assessment, although students’ mathematics and reading scores are, said David Frady, an English teacher.

Frady said other things about the school’s environment make it successful.

“We have a strong community service program, and many of our students are very mindful of participating in that. It really adds to the character of the school, but is not reflected in the grading,” he said.

In the end, both McQuarrie and Rebar said they don’t think their letter grades will affect perceptions of their schools.

“I think people will compare schools, but I don’t know how much that will change where students go,” McQuarrie said. “We do not have a school choice system throughout the state.”

Rebar also said she is not worried that the letter grade will affect the way the school is viewed in the community.

“I think we do a great job of getting out to the community. They know the quality of our school and the staff and they know we are already taking steps to improve our program,” she said.

The department has said it would not label any schools as failing schools, but that may not prevent people from thinking of some schools as failing.

“I wouldn’t want to go to a school that got an F,” Glidden said.

Among area high schools, the following schools received a letter grade of B: Erskine Academy, Maranacook Community High School and Winthrop High School.

Schools that received C’s were Carrabec High School, Lawrence High School, Madison Area High School, Messalonskee High School, Mt. Blue High School, Mt. View High School, Nokomis Regional High School, Waterville Senior High School and Winslow High School.

Schools that received D’s were Maine Central Institute, Mt. Abram Regional High School and Skowhegan Area High School.

Schools that received F’s were Forest Hills Consolidated School and Upper Kennebec Valley Memorial High School.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected]

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