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Hello. This is Governor Paul LePage.

In the coming weeks, you will read and hear about my Administration’s initiative to grade schools. I announced this plan in February during my State of the State Address, and since then the Department of Education has been working on it.

Thirteen states and New York City have adopted the A through F grading system since Florida introduced it in 1999.

When you hear about A through F grading, you understand immediately what the letters mean. We chose A through F grades because we all know what they mean.

We also know that no one score or grade tells the whole story of a school. That’s why our grading system is based on several factors, including student achievement in reading and math, growth in achievement, and the performance and growth of the bottom 25 percent of students (for elementary schools) and the graduation rate (for high schools).

DOE staff is working with school administrators to educate them about how we scored their school. We would like this to be a transparent process for everyone including teachers, students and parents. We would like these grades to encourage parents to become more involved if they are not already. And we would like this to start a real conversation on how we can work together to improve learning experiences for our children. We must put our students first.

Unfortunately, some legislators and union leaders have already attacked this approach, saying this “sends the wrong signal to our schools, teachers, students, parents and community.” Democrats have even gone so far to say that providing a letter grade equates to brandishing schools with a “scarlet letter.”

They are the ones who are attaching shame to the letter grades, not us. If they would listen and pay attention as we roll out this grading system, they will see it is about transparency, and about supporting those low performing schools so they can improve and create better outcomes for students.

You will also hear union leaders say that these grades are unfair and that it will hurt students. Both arguments are political rhetoric. If grading our schools harms students, then why do we grade our students? Grades are earned, and just as our children have the ability to improve their grades schools do as well. The goal here is to help every school earn an A.

We know, however, that there are under-performing schools. So, if a school scores low, the state will offer resources to help raise their grade. Part of our grading plan includes $3 million for an Office of Improvement. The Office would establish a division in the education department to help struggling schools by providing state-level guidance and clear objectives to administrators.

It’s actually very similar to the federal School Improvement Grant program that offers funding to low-performing schools to help foster achievement.

Folks, we cannot become a world leader in education until we become a national leader in education.

I’ll end with a short story of a professor who told his class one day to take a quarter of the points earned by the top half of the class and pass them on to the students in the lower half of the class. The students all agreed that this was a stupid idea. Redistributing points earned by hard work and merit, simply so that students who didn’t study could get a higher grade, would be unfair.

America is a society of opportunity, and that is the moral to this story. Individuals earn success through hard work and motivation. While some may see the State grading system as “unfair”, it is actually full of opportunity. Opportunities to become more transparent to parents, create a focus on learning in schools, and provide resources to districts that need it most.

I am passionate about education because I would not be here today if not for the education I received. Horace Mann once said, "Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance-wheel of the social machinery."

Our children and grandchildren are the future of Maine, and it is our responsibility to ensure they have access to a quality education.

Thank you for listening.

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