A majority of Maine students are performing at or above grade level in English and science, but less than half of them are proficient in math, according to the results of new statewide tests released Wednesday afternoon.

The results are for math, English and science tests for all students in third through eighth grades, and SAT results for juniors in high school. The average results across all grade levels showed:

• 50.6 percent of Maine students were at or above grade level in English;

• 38.3 percent of Maine students were at or above grade level in math;

• 61 percent of Maine students were at or above grade level in science.

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

Because it’s the first time the state has used this particular test, known as the eMPowerME test, the results cannot be compared to previous years.

The same thing happened last year when the state used a different standardized test for only one year.

That means it will be at least three years before the state has test results data that can be compared year-over-year to track students’ academic performance.

The results from last year’s Smarter Balanced statewide test showed that 36 percent of all Maine students tested were considered proficient in math and 48 percent in English.

In Portland, the state’s largest school district, the scores were slightly higher than the statewide average in math (38.4 percent) and English (51 percent), and six percentage points lower in science (55 percent).

“We are encouraged by those results,” said Portland Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana. He said the district needs to focus on closing the gap between high- and low-performing students, while preserving “programs and services that enable many of our students to reach the highest levels of performance.”

Test scores usually mirror economic differences, with students in wealthier districts performing better than students in economically challenged districts, experts say. Botana said Portland’s economically disadvantaged students were about equal with state averages for that group, but middle class students fared better than their economic peers.

“They outperform the comparable group of students in the state by 10 percentage points in both mathematics and (English),” Botana said.

The Maine Department of Education signed a $4.14 million contract last year with New Hampshire-based Measured Progress Inc. to develop and administer the new tests, known as eMPowerME, which replaced the Smarter Balanced test that was used for only one year and cost about $3.5 million to administer.

Officials noted that participation was up this year – last year, 30 percent of juniors didn’t take the SAT. This year, the state had a 97 percent participation rate overall for math and science, which included the SAT results.

Maine’s results cannot be compared to other states, because the test was developed just for Maine. One goal of the multi-state Smarter Balanced consortium was that the member states could compare results, 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.

The pushback against the Smarter Balanced test was tied up in the anti-Common Core movement that swept the nation several years ago, and remains an issue today. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to end Common Core.

Critics said the standards are developmentally inappropriate and part of federal efforts to nationalize education. The Common Core standards, an education initiative developed by states in collaboration with each other, spell out exactly what students in each grade level are expected to know, such as the coordinate system in fifth-grade math.

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

Although Governor Paul LePage has criticized Common Core, Maine’s math and English standards are still aligned with Common Core.

The head of the state’s teachers’ union said this year’s test posed fewer problems in the classroom than the Smarter Balanced test.

“There were way fewer complaints,” said Lois Kilbey-Chesley, head of the Maine Education Association. The pressure around testing has eased as well, as rigid “No Child Left Behind” federal rules have eased under new “Every Student Succeeds Act” rules signed by President Obama.

“I think we’ve all learned a lot about assessment in the last decade, and in Maine these last four years, as we’ve tried all these different tests,” she said.


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