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INFORMATIONAL LETTER NO. 23

 

POLICY CODE:IKF/DB

 

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To:†††††† Superintendents and Principals (please forward to School Board Members, Assistant Superintendents, and Curriculum Coordinators)

 

From:†† Susan A. Gendron, Commissioner

 

Date:††† September 15, 2003

 

Re:††††† Timelines for Chapter 127 (Instructional Program, Assessment, and Diploma Requirements) and for Essential Programs and Services (EPS)

 

 

Since Chapter 127 of the Maine Department of Education Regulations went into effect in September 2002, the implementation timelines set forth in the regulation have provided a clear target for State and local efforts.What has not been so clear, however, is our capacity to accomplish the complex tasks outlined in the regulation within the established timelines.

 

Near the end of last springís session, the Maine Legislature passed into law the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) framework for school funding.According to the framework, beginning in 2005-06 and for five years thereafter, additional State funds will be added each year until the target of 50% State share of school funding is reached in 2009-10.The passage of EPS marks a historic moment in the implementation of Maineís Learning Results, an acknowledgement that all local districts must have adequate and equitable funding to achieve the standards outlined in Maine law.Though passing EPS was indeed historic, it leaves other timelines relevant to the implementation of the system of Learning Results out of sync, given that, under Maine law, implementation must be accompanied by a 50% State share of total educational costs as determined in the EPS model.Under the EPS model, the State share of education costs will not reach 50% until 2009-10.In the Governorís resolution for tax relief, passed in the recent Special Session, the State share of educational costs reaches 49% in 2007-08 and 52% in 2008-09.

 

In my view, confirmed by Maine Attorney Generalís office, the statutory language covering the linkage between EPS and Learning Results implementation is clear:the expectation that local districts award diplomas based on attainment of Learning Results standards must be accompanied by the State providing 50% of total educational costs.

 

A key principle that I have used to develop and discuss my vision for Maine education is balancing accountability with support.Based on Harvard professor Richard Elmoreís ďPrinciple of Reciprocity,Ē this guiding idea reminds us that any expectation of accountability at any level of the educational system must be accompanied by the necessary support, resources, and tools to meet the demands.I have used this principle in advocating with our Congressional delegation about the need for adequate resources to implement the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).It is only fair that we apply the same principle here in Maine to balance the expectation that all districts meet the accountability provisions of the Learning Results.

 

Charting a course for State education policy against such a backdrop will be the subject of a great deal of discussion in the coming weeks and months.I began exploring options to address the discrepancy of timelines with the Education Committee on Thursday, September 4th and with the State Board of Education during its planning retreat on September 11th and 12th.Given the significance of the November referendum to the availability of resources, the Education Committee agreed to meet on November 6th to review the outcome of the referendum and to consider our course of action.If the Maine Municipal Associationís (MMA) proposal passes, it would increase state share to 55% in 2005-06, as opposed to the Governorís alternative measure, which would reach 49% in 2007-08.A final decision cannot be made regarding the required timelines until the results of the referendum are known and the State Board of Education, the Education Committee, and the Maine Legislature address the implications of those results.I do anticipate a proposed alignment of the phase-in of EPS with the requirement to award diplomas based on achievement of the Learning Results, as required by Maine law.

 

In addition to financial resource problems, the State has also experienced delays in the development of the Maine Educational Data Management System (MEDMS).We now expect that the local assessment module of MEDMS will be completed no earlier than April 2004.Since every aspect of creating this database system has turned out to be more complex than expected, the April 2004 projection must also be accepted with caution.

 

A final factor has also siphoned off both State and local capacity for Learning Results work:the federal No Child Left Behind Act.Key Department staff members have devoted untold hours interpreting and developing State systems to respond to the federal law.Iím certain that time has also been required at the local level to address both accountability and the meaning of the requirements for highly qualified educators.Later this fall, new Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) required by NCLB for mathematics and reading will be distributed to all Maine districts, which will require review at the local level for curriculum, instruction, and assessment implications.

 

Given the factors above, I will be strongly recommending to the Education Committee that we delay the formal requirement for a standards-based diploma in English Language Arts and Mathematics for one year (to 2007-08), and to bring these two content areas onto the same timeline as is currently set for meeting the standards in Science, Social Studies, and Health/Physical Education.I am also recommending that the current timeline for Local Assessment Systems (LAS), due to be completed by the end of 2003-04, be delayed for one year (to 2004-05).In the meantime, the Department will survey all districts again in the spring of 2004 to gather further data on the status of the work.Preliminary findings from the LAS Implementation Study will also be available near the end of the school year, and those findings should help us determine what additional steps, if any, would be necessary at that time.

 

(Note:under the current EPS timeline, the content areas of Career Preparation, Modern and Classical Languages, and Visual and Performing Arts are linked to full implementation of EPS.Once the result of the November referendum is known, the precise timelines for these areas will also be resolved and announced to the field.)

 

I realize the timing of these decisions poses problems for local school officials in planning for curriculum modifications and in communicating with 9th grade students and their parents, many of whom have been already been informed of the requirements under the existing timelines.In an ideal world, the timeline discrepancies in the various statutes would have been addressed simultaneously in the last Legislative session.Our choices are to forge ahead even though there is compelling evidence that state resources are not yet at the levels required by law or to adjust the timelines in response to the realities we face.I encourage superintendents and school boards, in districts where systems are in place now to allow for moving forward on the existing timelines for Mathematics and English Language Arts, to do so.†† Data from the recent DOE survey on LAS status suggests that 60% of districts are well positioned for full implementation.Much could be learned from such pilot efforts, and consideration will be given to including some of these districts in the LAS Implementation Study.Many other districts, not prepared for full implementation, will benefit from field testing assessments and validating performance standards in preparation for full implementation the following year.The Department has developed a full calendar of statewide and regional technical support workshops on LAS development, including providing targeted support to districts whose work is still in the early stages, to help districts make as much progress as possible this year.

 

On a personal note, I wish to acknowledge that this issue has raised a number of profound ethical, legal, and policy complexities that have defied a simple solution.A range of policy options has been considered, including strengthening existing waiver provisions, in the search for the best course of action.I am cognizant of the fact that no matter which option we choose, it may be interpreted as breaking faith with local needs, either by those who are ready to move forward or by those who are not.In the end, I have relied on the language and intent of Maine law, and my ethical commitment to ensure that the State accepts its share of responsibility for educational reform in Maine.†††

 

Over the coming weeks, I will be working with the Governorís Office, the State Board of Education, the Education Committee, and the Maine Legislature to ensure that this delay is not perceived as weakening our commitment to the full implementation of Maineís Learning Results, and that the vision of higher expectations for all Maine students warrants our utmost effort and urgent action.Indeed, this must be a time when our commitment to all Maine students is redoubled and announced publicly.I will work hard to make the case that adding 1% to the EPS model in 2007-08 is the right thing to do, so that further delays can be avoided.

 

I will be developing a press release on this issue this week to keep statewide audiences informed of these recent developments.I recommend that local superintendents discuss this issue with administrative teams and school boards to determine what policy, program, staff development, and communications steps should be considered at this time.