AUGUSTA — The Maine Charter School Commission agreed Tuesday to send a sternly worded letter to Harpswell Coastal Academy, warning school officials they could lose their charter because they failed to give a state-mandated annual assessment test to its inaugural class of 60 students in fifth and eighth grades.
The charter school forgot to give students the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests in the fall, commissioners said Tuesday, and school officials are now trying to find an alternative test to administer before the end of the year.
The problem was discovered at the school’s 90-day review in November. Maine public schools have used the NECAP since 2009. A reading and math test is given each year to grades three through eight, and Maine includes a writing test for fifth- and eighth-graders.
In its report, the commission review team described not giving the test as an “oversight.”
“All the minute details involved with starting a school are quite overwhelming at times as there can be a sense that administratively a tidal wave has hit. With that being said, certain details do have to be taken care of,” the team wrote. “With the NECAP testing designated on (Harpswell’s) performance indicators as the choice of assessment for the first year, this was not possible since those tests are submitted to 5th and 8th graders respectively. Since HCA has enrolled only 6th and 9th grades, assessments have been an oversight. (sic)
“Some measure of assessment is required and it is therefore the commission’s request that an alternative form of assessment be completed this academic school year,” the report said.
The commissioners directed that the school be notified that the results must be “acceptable,” a key point because the school is considering using Accuplacer, which is generally used to determine if high school students are prepared for college-level work, not as an assessment test for elementary and middle-school students. Local community colleges use it to determine whether incoming students need to take remedial courses.
Commissioners said the school wanted to use the Accuplacer because the state reimburses the cost, and the alternative test being considered, Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) tests, would cost $3,000 plus an additional $15 to $18 per child tested.
Commissioner Ande Smith said he was concerned that the Accuplacer would result in “ambiguous data, and we’ll look at each other and say: ‘Now what?’ ”
Regarding the concern about cost, Smith said, “I’ve got to be honest. I don’t care. If they can’t find an assessment, they should close.”
“We agree,” Commission Chairwoman Jana Lapoint responded. She said the school intended to administer the Accuplacer this week or next.
Harpswell Head of School John D’anieri, who was not at the meeting, was surprised at the commission’s action.
“I was under the impression that the work we were doing with the commission to create an appropriate testing regime for this year (had) no remaining obstacles,” D’Anieri said.
“We intend to address this as soon as possible and meet the requirements by the June fifth deadline.”
D’Anieri said while cost was a factor in test choice, he thinks the Accuplacer is the best test to use for practical purposes.
“Getting our kids to practice on a standardized test that actually has some impact on them later on, it seems like a good idea,” he said.
The commissioners debated whether to require the school to administer the NWEA tests immediately, but decided to leave it to Harpswell Coastal Academy officials to decide which test to administer.
Whatever test is used, it must be administered for at least the next four years so the commissioners can evaluate academic progress and ensure the school hits predetermined academic benchmarks.
Next year, the entire state is switching to the Smarter/Balanced assessment test, which Harpswell officials plan to administer. The school will also have to continue administering Accuplacer or NWEA for at least four years.
Harpswell Coastal Academy plans to add grades and students over the years, with a goal enrollment of 280 students in grades 6-12 by the fall of 2017.
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