Maine's Failing Academic Achievement

Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), July 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

Maine's Failing Academic Achievement


Maine has known for years that its academic growth has not kept pace with the nation's. And while the state has been busy with reorganizing school districts, overhauling statewide tests and waging funding battles, it has fallen further behind even as the United States as a whole has made slow progress compared with other countries.

Maine cannot hope to keep its families here nor compete with other states, much less other countries, for businesses if it continues to make so little academic progress.

Academic growth over the last 19 years has tended to lift students at different achievement levels uniformly, according to the report from Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance and Education Next. The problem is that student achievement did not rise adequately in every state, especially in comparison to other countries. Maine played a role in slowing down the growth. Between 1992 and 2011, Maine's annual rate of growth in math, reading and science ranked second to last out of the 41 states examined, the report concluded.

Had all students across the country made the same average gains as the most improved states -- Maryland, Florida, Delaware and Massachusetts -- the U.S. would be at the same improvement rate as Germany and the United Kingdom.

The study should serve as one of several wake-up calls, especially since it followed a survey that found a significant number of Maine students say they are not challenged in school. The federal Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress found that 39 percent of fourth-graders in Maine say their math work is often or always easy.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and Gov. Paul LePage responded to the Harvard report by saying what they have been reiterating for awhile: The status quo is not working. It's difficult to argue against Bowen's assertion that effective teachers are the most important in-school factor in student achievement. That's why the state must continue efforts to retain and reward its best teachers.

Bowen also is correct that more districts in Maine need to focus on rigor. Standards must be set high to encourage more learning and growth. Researchers outlined a sad statistic in their report: Only 6 percent of students in the U.S. performed at the advanced level in math -- a percentage that is exceeded by 30 other countries. …

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