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TO:                  Superintendents of Schools

FROM:            Susan A. Gendron, Commissioner        

DATE:             January 20, 2006

RE:                  2006 State of the State Address and the Local Assessment System

            The Governor directed me last evening in his State of the State Address to submit to the Legislature a request for a moratorium on the Local Assessment System.  I’m sure this has caused a ripple of conversation across the State this morning from those who believe this is the right direction, to those who are feeling we are stepping away from our vision of ALL Maine students achieving high standards and thus being prepared to succeed in the future.  I hope as each of you reflects on this request, you will see it as an opportunity to “go the distance” for a successful, sustainable implementation of the system of Maine Learning Results.

            The moratorium as applied to the Local Assessment System would be a legally authorized period of delay, a waiting period set by the Legislature to redefine strategies most likely to succeed in implementing the assessment part of the Maine Learning Results.  This will require a modification to current statutes and Chapter 127.

            In the data from the SAU visits, testimonies to the Legislature, research studies, surveys, as well as the work of the Teacher Workload Task Force, we have heard your concerns about our capacity to build a trustworthy system that measures student attainment of the Maine Learning Results through the use of the current “Local Assessment System.” 

            We see the moratorium as allowing essential time for us to stop and reflect on the lessons we have learned.  Through this process we will have the support and consultation of internationally renowned expert on educational change, Michael Fullan.   Dr. Fullan has agreed to help us “go the distance” in educational reform by offering processes and strategies that will give us ways to combine the three components necessary for positive change.  They include building capacity, accountability, and providing incentives (pressures and supports) while maintaining a deep commitment to learning at all levels.   Dr. Fullan will help us ensure that first and foremost, our efforts to be accountable serve the purpose of promoting students’ learning. I am rededicating our resources at the State level to find ways to move forward and I invite you to travel with me.

In the words of Michael Fullan:

            Governments can push accountability, provide incentives (pressures and supports), and/or foster capacity building.  We will see that if they do only the first and second they can get results that, I will argue, are real but not particularly deep or lasting.  If they do all three they have a chance of going the distance.  Many governments have put all their eggs in the accountability basket; a few have been good at combining pressure and support; and none have seriously affected capacity, although several are now working on it.(p.220)

- The New Meaning of Educational Change, Third Edition, Teachers College Press, 2001

            In broad terms, we will be working with Michael Fullan to identify in what ways we can sustain and/or re-establish our ability to build capacity at the school, district, and State level, and to close the achievement gap in literacy and numeracy among the students in Maine.

            I am engaged in defining our work with Michael Fullan as I write this letter and he has committed to finalizing a plan for his critical review of Maine’s work by February 15, 2006.  This plan will be a companion part of the moratorium recommendation and the School Administrative Unit Review Report, all to be submitted by February 15, 2006 to the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.

            I thank you for your commitment to the students of Maine and your willingness to engage in this difficult and invaluable work.