Thursday, January 30, 2003

Schools fear many won’t graduate

Published in the Current

School officials expect that between 10 and 15 percent of the present eighth-grade class, as many as 22 students, will not graduate from high school
without additional help to get them over the bar of stricter requirements set by the state and federal governments.

In a School Board workshop Tuesday, Superintendent Tom Forcella told the board that the Maine Learning Results and the federal No Child Left Behind
Act will prevent students from graduating if they do not meet local assessment standards now under development.

The numbers are estimates, and are based on present Maine Educational Assessment tests, which are one indication of how well a student meets the
Maine Learning Results. Several eighth-graders do not meet standards in math or language arts.

“We have some kids – especially this group in mathematics and language arts – who are not going to make it,” Forcella said.

The School Board expects to request between $35,000 and $40,000 to fund additional help, including computer software and a staff position, for kids
falling behind. There may be additional help during the school year or perhaps summer school classes for those students.

But it is only the beginning.

“We are going to end up spending a lot of money on this,” board member Kevin Sweeney said. The additional help is necessary so the kids are “able to have a shot,” high school Principal Jeff Shedd told the board.

The subject has come up before. Shedd and others have expressed concern about the effects of the legislation on graduation rates, and have talked about ways to bring students up to the level they need to get a diploma.

“We see this as a district-wide issue, not a high school issue,” Forcella said. “Down the road, our hope is to catch kids earlier.”

Some but not all of the students in question are in special education programs, Director of Special Education Claire LaBrie told the board. Special needs kids are not exempt from meeting the standards in order to graduate.

Middle School Principal Nancy Hutton told the board she expects the group at risk will include some students in special education; others who were formerly in special education programs but are no longer; some who are on the “borderline” between needing and not needing special education; and, others who just have a hard time learning certain subjects.

For some it is a matter of what level of achievement they have attained before they enter the high school. In math, for example, anyone starting high school in a math class below Algebra I will “by definition” not have learned enough by the end of high school to meet the Maine Learning Results standards, Shedd said.