August 26, 2013

Percentage of students tested key to Maine's school grading system

The state's new A-F report card for schools gives too much weight to test participation, some educators say.

By SUSAN McMILLAN Kennebec Journal

(Continued from page 1)

Schools just received their SAT results and are reviewing them for accuracy. When that process is finished, Tome said she expects to see fewer schools below 95 percent participation.

"Had we had the performance grading system all along, coupled with No Child Left Behind accountability, I would wager a guess that you would see a much, much smaller number of schools not meeting the threshold," she said.

Maine Central Institute spokeswoman Jennifer Beane said in an email that school staff members work hard every year to ensure that all juniors take the Maine High School Assessment, and this year they had 100 percent participation.

Last year was the third time since 2007 that participation on the Maine High School Assessment fell below 95 percent at Maine Central Institute, according to reports on the Department of Education website.


Forest Hills Consolidated School in Jackman usually clears the bar, but was penalized for having one of 14 students miss taking the SAT. The girl was moving out of the district at test time, Principal Denise Plante said. As a result, the school received an F rather than a D.

Forest Hills was one of seven high schools in 2012 that had a junior class with fewer than 20 students. At that size, one student missing the test triggers the one-letter grade penalty, while two missing it causes an automatic F.

Those small schools are likely to face that situation every year, barring a surge in enrollment. Plante said two data workers from the Department of Education told her the department may consider setting a minimum student count to protect small schools from volatility, which she would support.

Tome said department staff are gathering feedback about the report card formula, but she does not expect changes before the release of the next report cards in the spring. Changes have to be carefully considered and could reduce the year-to-year reliability of the grades.

At some high schools, including Gardiner's and Skowhegan's, participation is a recurring problem, falling below 95 percent several times since 2006, when Maine started using the SAT for the reading, writing and math sections of the Maine High School Assessment.

Only the reading and math sections count for participation benchmarks. Schools' participation rates also include a small number of students with disabilities who complete the Personalized Alternate Assessment Portfolio. Most of the results come from the SAT administered on the first Saturday in May.


Skowhegan Area High School allows students to take a day off the Monday after junior prom in exchange for coming in that Saturday, but that only goes so far, Principal Wilson said.

"The kids who aren't in school, we call them, we offer taxi service, we'll do whatever we can," he said. "But I can't make someone come into this building and take that test."

Gardiner Area High School has implemented its own strategies in the past four years to entice students to come in that Saturday, like providing a free breakfast that Principal Chad Kempton helps serve and an early release day the following school year if the class reaches 95 percent participation.

In spite of those efforts, the school had 94.5 percent participation in 2012 and received a D on its report card rather than a C.

Students who miss the main testing day can take a make-up test during school, but both Wilson and Kempton said some students simply refuse, and they have little leverage in that situation.

They said they've tried to communicate to parents and students how important the test is to their schools, but that doesn't necessarily convince the students to care.

"For those kids that are moving on to a four-year college that has the SAT as part of their acceptance requirements, it's a free shot at getting a good score, but for the kids that are going to the military or community college, it's a lot less important," Kempton said. "What's the incentive for them to take a three-and-a-half-hour assessment on a Saturday?"

Some states require students to pass a standardized test before being allowed to graduate, which could potentially boost participation. But Wilson said students skipping the SAT may not be on track to graduate anyway, and Kempton said that wouldn't be good education policy.

"We, just like every school in central Maine, have a variety of kids coming through our doors," Kempton said. "I really value the day-to-day interactions that the kids have with their teachers throughout the course of their four years versus one assessment."

Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:


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