New Democratic school evaluation system would involve student progress and teacher input

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

May 9th, 2013

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The Capitol, Augusta, Maine. photo by Ramona du Houx

On Wednesday, leaders of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee announced a system to evaluate Maine schools. Democrats said the proposal offered a contrast to Governor LePage’s flawed A-F grading system and was consistent with their effort to strengthen public education for all Maine students. With LePage’s arbitrary system schools which have more students receiving free meals failed while affluent neighborhoods received high grades. The process did not include educators or school officials to make the determinations. Some critics believe LePage’s system would open the door to more charter school funding. Democrats said their new evaluation system was fairer.

“Just as evaluations serve to show students their strengths and weaknesses and how to improve, so too should be the case for our school evaluations,” said Senator Rebecca Millett who serves as the Senate chair of the committee. “And then, we need to look at what’s next. We have to look at how to help our underperforming schools; we have to share best practices, encourage improvement, and give teachers the tools they need.”

The proposal would develop a fair evaluation system that involves education stakeholders and is based on student progress and local improvement measures. The evaluation would not be based on a bell-curve or standardized test scores.

Millet added, “It will not be based on a bell-curve because we all learned long ago that with every bell curve, there are those who win big and those who lose–just as big. We should not be in the business of choosing winners and losers. We want all classrooms to be strong so that students can have the best opportunity for success.”

Additionally, the evaluation would include a process to include peer group comparisons based on characteristics like special education, free and reduced price lunch, and English Language Learners (ELL).

“We want to make Maine schools and classrooms the best learning environments they can be for our students, said Rep. Bruce MacDonald, the House chair of the committee and a retired educator. “‘Putting students first means strengthening public education, not undermining and underfunding it. We should always be looking at what we can improve and how we can do better.”

Rep. MacDonald pointed to several Democratic bills that would invest in early childhood education, strengthen the teaching of writing and math, improve high school graduates’ readiness for college and the workplace, bolster Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, and help students afford college.

“If we want to do better, we can’t shame and blame our students,” said MacDonald. “We need to pass laws that help them the tools to succeed.”

The measure is currently being drafted in the Revisor’s office and is expected to be referenced to the Education and Cultural Affairs committee next week.

An Act to Fix and Improve the Grading System of Public Schools in Maine
Concept: Before the Department of Education or the Governor’s Office, the Department of Education shall develop a an evaluation system that includes stakeholders in the process

The evaluation system must include:

  • Accurate measures of student progress over at least 5 years

  • Interviews with parents, school board members, teachers, and other education leaders about the overall school climate and environment

  • College attendance and attainment rates over at least 5 years, including enrollment in the US Armed Forces

  • Peer group comparisons based on characteristics like special education, free and reduced price lunch, and ELL rates

  • Attendance rates

  • Evaluation of graduation rates based on 95% graduation, not 100%

  • Major substantive rule making

  • Evaluation of performance targets, not penalization for student participation rates in standardized tests

The evaluation system will not include: A bell curve

Some Education Legislation under consideration:

LD 1383: An Act to Improve the Delivery of Early Child Care and Education Services, (House Majority Leader Seth Berry); LD 868: An Act to Expand Funding for Early Childhood Education (Sen. Colleen Lachowicz); LD 517: An Act To Restore Funding for Head Start (Sen. John Tuttle)

· 226 children and families lost Head Start services due to last year’s budget cuts.
· Investing in early childhood education is vital to children’s success; it also reduces dropout rates, crime and incarceration. (2012 Fight Crime: Invest in Kids report)
· LD 1383 provides necessary resources to strengthen child care services and expands access, restores lost funding to Maine Families (home visiting) and Head Start.
· LD 868 would make Head Start agency programs eligible for federal funds through the E-Rate program, which provides funding for technology and telecommunication services.
· LD 517 restores funding to Head Start that was eliminated last session.

· LD 1353: An Act to Further Reduce Student Hunger (Senate President Justin Alfond) Requires a school that holds summer activities and has more than 50% of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch take advantage of the Summer Food Services Program, a federal program administered by the USDA, that covers the cost of food in summer food programs.

· LD 1361: An Act to Strengthen the Teaching of Writing and Mathematics and Improve Maine High School Graduates’ College and Career Readiness (Rep. Mary Nelson) Strengthens the teaching of writing and math, improves high school graduates’ readiness for college and the workplace.

· LD 1132: An Act To Achieve Economic Growth by Enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education and To Meet Workforce Needs (Sen. Emily Cain)
· Enhances STEM education in Maine.
· Provides funding for Executive Director’s Office in STEM Council; can advance mission of education, career awareness campaigns and internships for students in STEM fields.
· Prepares students for jobs of the future.

· LD 1106: An Act To Develop a Grant Program To Establish a Teacher-led School Model (Rep. Matthew Moonen) Inspired by Reiche Community School in Portland. Aims to facilitate the exploration of and transition to the teacher-led model for other schools and school districts.

· LD 1350: An Act Regarding School Administrator Effectiveness (Sen. Emily Cain) Requires school administrative units to develop and implement performance evaluations and professional growth systems for administrators.

· LD 1332: An Act To Increase the College Graduation Rate in Maine (Sen. Jim Boyle) Creates a scholarship fund for Maine students who made significant progress towards their bachelor’s or associate degrees, but for some reason did not complete them and left school.
The State of Maine has more than 200,000 people who at one point began college, but left before graduating and receiving a degree.