Maine education officials released the latest K-12 state test results Friday, but they are practically meaningless because the state used a new test – the Smarter Balanced test for English and math – but won’t use it again.

That means the results can’t be compared to previous years’ test results, and they can’t be compared to whatever test the state selects for students this year. The state issued a request for proposals for a new statewide assessment test this week, and expects students will take it in the spring.

The lack of comparable testing data has created a gap in meaningful test results.

The last statewide results in Maine were released in March 2014, for the New England Common Assessment Program tests given to elementary and middle schools and the SAT for high school juniors. They showed that overall, 60 percent of Maine students were proficient in math, 69 percent in reading, and 48 percent in writing, significantly higher than the Smarter Balanced results released Friday.

The results from the Smarter Balanced test, which is aligned to tougher Common Core learning standards, found that 36 percent of Maine students are considered proficient in math and 48 percent in English.

Educators have been warning parents and students to expect a drop in test scores, based on other states’ experiences. In Kentucky, the first state to administer Common Core-based tests, there was a 30 percent to 40 percent drop in proficiency in reading and math, according to results released in late 2012.

The Common Core standards spell out exactly what students in each grade level are expected to know, such as the coordinate system in fifth-grade math.

“We’ve said all along it’s supposed to be more rigorous,” said acting Maine Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin. “The standards are supposed to be tougher.”

According to the results, proficiency scores in English remained fairly steady across the grades, from 46 percent for sixth graders to a high of 51 percent in fifth grades. Math scores showed a steady decline, with third-graders showing 45 percent proficiency, to a low of 25 percent for high school juniors.

Individual school results are available at the Department of Education website.

Desjardin added that there are other factors that may have led to lower scores. It was the first time Maine students took state assessments on a computer, instead of using paper-and-pencil, which caused problems in the classrooms, some teachers reported. There was also a low participation rate among high school juniors – 30 percent didn’t take the test, and at eight high schools no students took it.

Participation rates were particularly low at some of the state’s top-ranked high schools. Top-ranked Maine School of Science and Mathematics only had 51 percent of their students take the math test. Yarmouth High school had 8 percent take it, Cape Elizabeth had 30 percent take it and Greely had 19 percent take it. Low participation at top schools, Desjardin noted, may have pulled down the statewide average scores.

Some of the state’s largest schools also had low participation rates: Portland High School (215 students) had 54 percent participation; Lewiston High school (299 students) had 11 percent take the test; Camden-Rockport Middle School had fewer than half their 382 students take the test.

“It affects the results of the statewide score,” Desjardin said of the 70 percent participation rate of juniors. “It’s very statistically significant.”

The opt-out rate was only 94 percent for third- through eighth-graders, he said.


The pushback against the Smarter Balanced test was tied up in the anti-Common Core movement that swept the nation last year. In Maine, there was a fledgling effort to put an anti-Common Core measure on the ballot, and critics said the standards are developmentally inappropriate and part of federal efforts to nationalize education.

Advocates said having a common set of academic standards across multiple states would benefit students and better prepare them for college or career.

Beginning in 2009, 45 states, including Maine, and the District of Columbia adopted the standards, but several, including Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina, dropped them in the face of parent and teacher protests.

Maine was one of 18 states that participating in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that hired American Institutes for Research (AIR) to create the online tests. Two other states besides Maine are dropping the test, and some states are suing Smarter Balanced because of problems administering it.

In Maine, the expectation was that this year’s Smarter Balanced results would provide a baseline for future comparisons on student performance. Dropping the test has thrown other education department projects into hiatus, such as the decision to not issue A-F report cards for schools until there are two years of results from the same standardized test.

The Smarter Balanced test was dropped in Maine after educators and parents argued that the test was flawed and difficult to administer and take.

Desjardin said the juniors may have opted not to take the Smarter Balanced test because they were taking other tests such as the ACT and SAT. Despite the lower scores, Desjardin said, Maine’s results are similar to those in other states.

“Compared to the three or four other states, we’re in the same ballpark,” he said.

Desjardin said it cost the state about $3.5 million to administer the Smarter Balanced test, about $300,000 less than it did for the New England Common Assessment Program test.

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