Lake Region H.S. wins grade change appeal

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Back when Ted Finn was in high school, he was taught that if a number had .5 or higher, he would “round up” to the next whole number.

Finn, who is now a principal, was quite surprised earlier this year when his school — Lake Region High School — earned a “D” grade as part of the Maine Department of Education’s new “School Performance Grading System.” The school received a 94.5 grade regarding student participation in taking the high school assessment test, which is given during a student’s third year. Participation below 95 results in a one letter grade deduction.

After making huge strides — increased test scores and higher graduation rates — after landing as one of Maine’s 10 low-performing schools, Finn and SAD 61 Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Beecher were extremely disappointed with the “D” grade. Disappointment turned to frustration when they saw the state adjust Kennebunk’s grade, as the result of “rounding up.” The local school officials wondered “why not us too?”

“We really felt bad for our kids and our staff, who have worked very hard to turn things around here,” Finn said.

To make matters worse, State Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen visited Lake Region H.S. shortly after the “D” grade was handed out and boasted how through determination and a willingness to take a risk — create and implement a new learning approach — the school had made the difficult climb back to the peak of the educational mountain. Bowen noted that when other school officials sought ways to improve their systems, they now look at Lake Region H.S.

Like a student who felt shortchanged on his or her final grade on a well-written research paper, Finn and Beecher felt LRHS had come too far in the improvement process to let the “D” grade stay on the school’s report card. So, they made a strong argument and filed an appeal. While the “rounding up” argument did not reverse the original grade, LRHS won its appeal when state officials found a discrepancy in student participation numbers.

Months after the appeal was filed, the state agreed with Finn and Beecher. Lake Region now has a “C.”

Based on the grading rubric, LRHS would have earned a high ‘C,’ but the grade was lowered to a ‘D’ because the state computation came up with a lower than 95% participation rate,” Superintendent Beecher said. “They (the state) have now recalculated the participation rate and agree with our appeal.”

In a letter dated July 17, Commissioner Bowen said his department reviewed LRHS’ data and found that a “flag denoting students who were exempt from the assessment due to not being in the third year of high school was overlooked by programmers.”

One student should not have been counted for participation. By removing that one student, LRHS’ participation rate increased to 95.2%, thus eliminating the grade level penalty.

“We deeply regret our error and thank you for bringing it to our attention,” Bowen wrote. “More importantly, I want to commend you and your students, staff and community for the dramatic transformation that is underway at Lake Region High School. To earn a ‘C’ just three years ago after being named one of Maine’s persistently lowest-achieving schools is a tremendous testament to the courageous change and hard work your school has collaboratively undertaken and is something to be incredibly proud of…Keep up the great work!”

While the apology and grade change was nice, again, SAD 61 officials found themselves facing a public image problem. Beecher wished the error had been acknowledged earlier by the state, since she fears too many people might still think the school received a “D” when it should have had a “C.”

Lake Region was not alone when it came to incorrect grading. Mount Abram also saw its “D” raised to a “C,” prompting its principal to say he wished state officials were more careful about their calculations before publicly releasing grades.

“It’s not necessarily going to be publicized as much as the ‘D’ was, unless we go out and hold a press conference,” Principal Marco Aliberti said in a daily newspaper report.

Although most staff are on summer vacation, Superintendent Beecher nearly did just that — she sent an e-mail to media outlets last week regarding the grade change.

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