October 12, 2012

Madison, Pittsfield schools receive failing grades under 'No Child Left Behind Act'

Educators question grading curve

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Two area schools have been added to the list of those failing to meet federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act while several others have shown signs of improvement.

Madison Junior High School in Madison and Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield failed to meet federal standards over the last two years, according to a report released by the Maine Department of Education on Thursday. The report comes in the midst of state efforts to secure a waiver for the No Child Left Behind Act on grounds that the national system doesn't accurately measure school success.

"Every year there are more schools on the failing list because every year the bar rises," said Kristen Gilbert, the principal at Warsaw. "I'm not promoting lowering the bar. I think all kids can achieve, it just takes some longer to get there."

At the same time, a number of schools that did not make federal standards last year were able to make them this year, including Canaan Elementary School, which met the federal standards for the first time in three years.

Other improved area schools are Albion Elementary School, Belgrade Central School, China Middle School, China Primary School and Mill Stream Elementary in Norridgewock.

"I'm very pleased with our efforts to make annual yearly progress," said Steve Swindells, the principal at Canaan. "It's something we worked really hard for here."

At the same time, Swindells, who has been a principal at Canaan for the last 12 years and has worked in the district for the last 40, agreed that the federal standards are nearly impossible to meet.

"The test requirements are virtually impossible," he said. "The schools are trying to hit a moving target because every year they have to score 10 percent higher. It is even harder to improve for schools that scored high to begin with."

This year's report is based on testing from the 2011-2012 school year and shows that 245 out of 584 schools in the state met the requirements in both reading and math.

Under federal law, schools are required each year to meet state testing targets as a measure of yearly progress. This means that schools whose performance remains the same or improves by a smaller amount will not meet progress requirements.

In Maine, testing is held during the first three weeks of October every year.

Bonnie Levesque, the principal at Madison, said that students had extra preparation going into this year's tests. She said the school is also working on improving its math program, which was the area that caused it the most trouble in their progress report.

"We have formed a team of parents and teachers to work on professional development," she said. "We are also going to have a math night later this month and again in the spring."

The state targets for this year were that 75 percent of students in schools with grades three through eight are proficient in reading and 70 percent in math. At the high school level, the state required 78 percent of students be proficient in reading and 66 percent in math.

Swindells said that last year the state froze the target testing goals because so many schools were not making progress.

In Warsaw, the school is implementing a new expeditionary-based learning system that Gilbert says has been proven to raise student achievement. Expeditionary learning is a school reform model chartered by the nonprofit Outward Bound. Students conduct field work and make presentations to the community as a way of learning. They might study samples of river water from a nearby ecosystem and then present to the town board on the health of their drinking water or they might spend time learning about the food chain by working in gardens.

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