News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, April 19, 2018 and Island Ad-Vantages, April 19, 2018 and The Weekly Packet, April 19, 2018
Value, use of test scores vary among schools

by Anne Berleant

The Department of Education recently released the latest standardized test results for area schools, with most peninsula school districts at or above state averages. Students in third through eighth grade and juniors in high school take the Maine Educational Assessment tests in English Language Arts and Mathematics each spring, and the science test in fifth, eighth and eleventh grade.

The Maine Department of Education determines what the state standards are for each grade based on the common core standards adopted by Maine in 2011. In 2016-17, 53 percent of students statewide met or exceeded the English Language Arts standards, 39 percent met or exceeded math standards, and 61 percent met or exceeded science standards.

“From our state’s scores, it is clear that our students and schools have work to do to increase academic skills,” MDOE Director of Communications Rachel Paling wrote in a recent email.

DOE Assessment Coordinator Nancy Godfrey said basing the tests on the common core, called the Maine Learning Standards, since 2014-15 has affected the state student averages.

“Off the top of my head, I’m going to say yes because the common core bar is quite higher than what our previous standards were,” she said.

Different schools, different approaches

Local school districts take different approaches to taking the test and using its results.

“We analyze the MEA data but it is only one piece of a very complex puzzle,” Union 93 Curriculum Coordinator Dawn McLaughlin said, that includes “data analysis of everyday student performance” through teacher assessments, homework and attendance.

McLaughlin notes that in the five Union 93 schools of Castine, Brooksville, Penobscot, Blue Hill and Surry, ELA scores are all within five points of each other, something she said reflects the schools’ efforts to align curriculum to “Union Power” goals, which align with the Common Core.

For Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington, one-year results are not informative taken alone.

“[The tests’] most important value is in regards to breaking down the scores into sub scores and looking at trends over three to five years as they can point out gaps and areas of weakness,” he wrote in a recent email. “The trends over time are what is most significant.”

Results in the three districts in Union 76 varied, with Deer Isle-Stonington and Sedgwick coming in below state average and Brooklin above.

Comparing results between schools is “apples to oranges, with much of the score being determined by the number of students tested,” Elkington said.

McLaughlin said Union 93 teachers do not “teach to the test,” while a document prepared for a recent Deer Isle-Stonington board meeting noted the need for better preparation, from typing skills (the tests are given online) to reviewing math curriculum.

Schools that do not meet state averages will be provided with support from DOE, according to information sent to schools with the test results.

Paley said that parents should realize that while individual and collective test scores give useful information “they should not be seen as a final judgment of a school or an individual student.”