July 25, 2008

Assessment Scores Reveal Mixed Results

By Matthew Stone, Kennebec Journal, Augusta, Maine

Jul. 23--AUGUSTA -- Two years after the state changed its scoring method for the Maine Educational Assessment tests, students appear to be making progress in math and reading. But some writing scores have worsened and science scores have remained largely unchanged since 2006.

Touting students' progress on math and reading scores, the state Department of Education on Tuesday released the latest batch of MEA results for students in grades 3 through 8.

Since 2006, according to department data, math scores have risen 4 percent while reading scores have inched up 5 percent.

Sixty-five percent of students this school year met or exceeded the state threshold in reading, compared to 60 percent in 2006.

Meanwhile, 56 percent of students met or surpassed the threshold in math, compared to 52 percent two years ago.

In a statement, Education Commissioner Susan A. Gendron called the test results "very encouraging."

"After several years of relatively flat achievement scores," she said, "we are beginning to see a positive trend."

Federal standards require states to test students in math and reading.

Maine also tests students in writing and science, the two areas where the state did not see improvement.

Grade 5 writing scores, for example, showed a sharp one-year drop from the 2006-07 academic year. The number of students meeting or exceeding standardized writing standards dropped to 44 percent from 58 percent.

The Department of Education said it was unable to use results from the Grade 8 writing test, citing sharp differences between scores from a prior pilot run of the exam and the time the bulk of students took the test in their classrooms.

"We are working to assess why the results were inconsistent and how we can adjust the assessment in the future so we can use it yearly to assess progress in writing," Gendron said in the statement.

In science, test results for students in grades 4 and 8 have shown little change over the last three school years.

The MEA results released by the Department of Education showed, by school district and by individual school, what percentage of students exceeded, met, partially met or did not meet standards set by the state.

School superintendents reached late Tuesday afternoon and evening reserved comment on their districts' performances pending further analysis of the results.

School Union 132 Superintendent Frank Boynton questioned the accuracy of the state's data for his district.

The state's numbers, he said, might include test data for students who moved out of the district before taking the test but remained on the district's student lists. Those students are given scores of zero.

Districts should know in the coming weeks whether their schools have made adequate yearly progress according to federal standards, Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said. Further analysis of the test scores, including breaking down results by special categories of students, would be needed before deciding whether a school has made sufficient progress.

Test results for each grade broken down by school and by school district can be accessed at www.maine.gov/education/mea/edmea.htm.


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