Over half of Maine students are testing at or above grade level in English and science, but fewer than half are considered proficient in math, according to the latest standardized test results released by the state on Monday.

“I am encouraged with how well our students are performing,” Education Commissioner Robert Hasson said in a statement, noting that students showed “consistent” improvement.

The average results across all grade levels for 2016-17 show 53 percent are at or above grade level in English – up 2 percent from the 2015-16 results – and 39 percent are at or above grade level in math – up 1 percent from 2015-16. Science results, from a test given to students in fifth, eighth and their junior year in high school, were stable at 61 percent.

“This is a true testament to the hard work and determination of our students and their teachers,” Hasson said.

The results are for math and English tests given to all students in third through eighth grades, and SAT results for juniors in high school. The state has changed tests repeatedly in recent years, so these results are the first since 2013 that can be compared to the previous year’s results.

The data released Monday could not be used to make statewide comparisons, so there was no immediate information on which schools or districts showed the greatest improvements or drops in their results. Department officials indicated that information would be available later.

That allows districts to compare results after factoring in – or factoring out – certain populations. For example, there is no way to compare test results for students who are not economically disadvantaged or for students who are not English language learners.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana said the district’s results showed fairly stable results, except for a drop in SAT math scores. The average SAT math score for Portland juniors was 465 in 2016-17, compared to 487 in 2015-16.

“That’s a fairly substantial drop,” he noted, adding that the district is currently selecting new math curricula and has been focused on improving the district’s middle school math program.

Students take standardized tests known as Maine Educational Assessments, or MEAs, every year. The test itself has changed repeatedly in recent years, partly in response to broader anti-testing sentiment across the nation. Maine students now take what’s known as the “empower ME” test, which was developed by New Hampshire-based Measured Progress Inc.

Before that, students took the Smarter Balanced test for one year, but the state Legislature voted to drop the Smarter Balanced test after educators and parents said it was flawed and difficult to administer and take.

Because the state has used different standardized tests in recent years, the empower ME results are the first results in years that can be compared to last year’s results.

The last empower ME results were released in December 2016.

Standardized tests have been controversial in recent years, particularly under No Child Left Behind, the main federal K-12 education law for more than a decade. Last year, the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was implemented, shifting more authority to states and freeing them from federal demands that had been in place for more than a dozen years.

Botana said educators have found, and some national polls have confirmed, that “the public seems really tired and not trusting of the high stakes testing as the single evaluation point for schools.”

“I think the tide is turning,” he said. Districts and parents still need tests to monitor student progress, but “I do think that in education in the past 10 to 15 years there’s been way too much testing and it’s been emphasized too much.”

Individual school and grade level results are available at the Department of Education’s website

This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. with additonal information, and to correct data about statewide English scores. The statewide English scores are up 2 percent from 2015-2016 test results.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

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