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19 Schools Taken Off DOE List, But Damage Is Already Done

Ohanian Comment: One must ask why there is such a media frenzy for scores.

Nineteen schools have been removed from the Maine Department of Education 's preliminary list of more than 140 schools that did not meet federal performance targets this past year.

The list, which was announced last week, was revised based on additional information received from schools, according to the department.

Most schools were on the initial list because, presumably, they hadn't met the "average daily attendance" requirement the state chose to satisfy the federal law.

At least 80 percent of students in a school must have been in attendance each day during 2002-2003, according to the guidelines.

One school was included on the initial list after it was incorrectly identified as not having met the federal participation requirement.

Under those guidelines, 95 percent of the school as a whole and in each of seven student subgroups - including low-income students, students with disabilities, and racial and ethnic groups - must take the state's standardized test which is used in grades four, eight and 11 to gauge progress.

Ironically, some schools not only were taken off the initial list of schools that were underperforming but they also were put on lists recognizing those that are improving and that are high performing.

The state considered the 80 percent attendance requirement a "realistic target for schools to be able to meet," Deputy Commissioner of Education Patrick Phillips said Friday. The vast majority of schools met the requirement, he said.

The designations were based on preliminary reports sent to all schools earlier in the month. Districts were asked to review, and if necessary, correct the data.

Department officials said schools were mistakenly included on the list for a variety of reasons. A school may have sent data in late, assumed the state already had the correct information, or didn't realize what facts were needed.

While some schools may have appealed the determination made by the state, the department may not have picked up the new information because its new data management system is not yet in place, said George Tucker, a department staff member.

In addition, newspapers, including the Bangor Daily News, filed a Freedom of Information Access request that forced the department to rush to put the information together, he said.

This is the first year that states have had to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, which require that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. To gauge progress toward that goal, each state has established its own yearly targets. Beginning in 2005-2006, testing will be expanded to include grades three through eight.

Schools that don't make enough progress are subject to consequences that become more severe each year it falls short of its mark.

Local officials on Friday were pleased that their schools were off the list, but also frustrated with the federal law's dizzying array of requirements.

Some took issue with the communications issued by the department. The meaning of the initials "ADA," or average daily attendance, had not been explained, they said.

Robert Stedt, principal of the Van Buren District Secondary School, said "we were looking at it from an academic standpoint and had no idea about other possible ways to be on the list."

Other school officials said the department had not made it clear that their schools were going to be cited, and so they never contacted the state to have their data checked.

"There were lots of breakdowns in communication," said Deborah Metzler, curriculum coordinator for SAD 26, where Cave Hill School was mistakenly identified as having missed the attendance target.

Her school was taken off the "naughty list and put onto the nice list," said Metzler, referring to the list of improving schools on which Cave Hill now is included. All this had been done without her supplying any new information, she said.

"That's the part that's discouraging to me," she said. The department "had the data and couldn't find it."

Barney Hallowell, principal at North Haven Community School, said department correspondence never indicated that his school would appear on the list.

The letters ADA appeared in "a tiny box," he said, but "I didn't think anything of it." After reviewing the school's data, he said he determined "we were in good shape" and "fully expected when the list came out that we wouldn't be on it."

"This is very damaging," he said, noting that his is the only island school accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and that it has received awards for its arts, science, math and language programs.

"The truth of the matter is even if there's a correction by the state, we've already been stigmatized," he said.

His school and Islesboro Central School are now included on the list of "high performing" schools.

John Kerr, Islesboro principal, said he and his staff "went crazy trying to figure out how on earth we were considered" a school that didn't make progress. "We didn't know about [ADA]," he said.

The Bangor Daily News received its share of criticism for having allegedly forced the department to issue information prematurely.

"The process should be allowed to work and the state should be allowed to check those lists before they're released for publication," said Louise Regan, superintendent in SAD 63 (Holden area) where the Airline School and Eddington Community School were inadvertently listed as having missed the attendance mark.

Those schools perform better than most in the state, said Regan. "They weren't on the list for performance, but people don't know that," she said.

When schools "get painted with this underperforming brush," some people may be led to believe their children "don't go to a good school," said Jeannette Condon, superintendent in SAD 20 , where Fort Fairfield Middle School and High School were inaccurately said to have missed the 95 percent participation mark.

"That's why the accuracy for these kinds of lists has to be a combined responsibility between the department of education and the newspaper. I do think the press let the educational profession down," she said.

The list will be further revised after the department reviews data from districts where students with special needs participated in an alternative assessment process, Phillips said.

Information also will be reviewed from districts that didn't make progress solely on the basis of the low-income subgroup, since the use of family Internet access as an indicator of poverty has been called into question, he said.

In addition to citing low performing schools, No Child Left Behind requires that states devise a reward system for schools that are improving. Some states give more money to schools that are doing well, Phillips said.

In Maine, schools that are making steady progress or are consistently high performing are included on a special list.

Next year is sure to be easier because the department plans on refining its data collection procedure, he said.

In addition, the department may decide to seek a change in the law that "allows us to embargo information ... so we can do our job correctly before going public," Phillips said.

"In this environment with high stakes accountability ... accurate public information is more important than ever."

If the department had been able to issue the list when it originally planned, it's possible the 19 schools wouldn't have been inaccurately cited, he said.

— Ruth-Ellen Cohen
19 schools taken off DOE list
Bangor Daily-News


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