School disparities

For decades, state and federal education officials and lawmakers have required accountability from our public schools. Assessment tools such as No Child Left Behind, Maine Learning Results, the New England Common Assessment Program and the Maine Educational Assessment tests are intended to quantify students’ grasp of their subjects and chart the progress of individual grade levels, schools and school districts.

We will save for another day the question of whether the anxious concentration on testing comes at the expense of teaching. The latest results are in, and they raise questions of their own.

At issue are the Elementary and Secondary Education Act scores for the 2016-2017 school year. The test, a derivative of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, yielded scores for Hancock County schools that show a considerable disparity in outcomes.

Students were tested for mathematics literacy, English language proficiency and science knowledge. Using a four-level scoring system, the results determine if there is minimal understanding, incomplete understanding, adequate understanding or thorough comprehension of the subject.

School system “success” is measured by the percentage of students scoring at, or above, expectations. Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor elementary schools are top in Hancock County for English proficiency, with students finishing above expectations. In math literacy, Penobscot led the pack, followed by Mount Desert and Bar Harbor. For science, Bar Harbor and Mount Desert schools separated from the pack with students scoring well above expectations, with Southwest Harbor finishing third.

Notice a trend in these community scores? The data suggest that the towns on Mount Desert Island have a learning edge, due perhaps to their higher-than-average annual spending commitment to education. Castine, Penobscot, Brooklin and Blue Hill also distanced themselves from the other schools in the county.

Our future depends on a well-educated populace that can support itself and prosper with the skills to gain meaningful employment and contribute to society. However, contributions to the success of every student don’t start and end at the schools’ doors. No matter what the community spends or what the school generates for test scores, the foundation for a complete education begins at home. Parents need to be engaged, supportive, constructive and, if unhappy with their existing school system, prepared to assist and improve their schools.

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