Two of the Portland district’s three high schools saw big dips in annual standardized statewide test results, with double-digit drops across the board in math, science and English at Casco Bay High School, according to an analysis of data released by the state Department of Education this week.

The percentage of Casco Bay students who tested at or above grade level fell by 14 points in math, 11 points in science and 10 points in English. At Portland High School, the percentages fell 9 points in science and 8 points in math, and increased 2 points in English.

Deering High School’s results were flat compared with the previous year, with half-percentage-point drops in math and English and a percentage-point increase in science.

Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, a public charter school in Portland that is not part of the city school district, got the highest statewide ranking for English and a top-10 slot for math.

Despite the decline in Casco Bay’s scores, the school still outperformed Deering and Portland high schools in all three categories. In English, for example, 65 percent of Casco Bay students were at or above grade level, compared with 63 percent at Portland and 40 percent at Deering. Casco Bay also is smaller – fewer than 100 juniors took the SAT compared with twice that at Portland and Deering – meaning any given change in performance would have a greater affect on the school’s score.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana said the high schools’ math scores show “a fairly substantial drop. That’s not positive.

“We’re concerned about our middle school math (program,) that’s an area of significant priority for us,” he said, noting that the district is in the middle of replacing the program and has invested in math coaches in the interim.

The district’s chief of academics said educators were just starting to analyze the data and hadn’t reached any firm conclusions yet.

“You really have to look more deeply into the data to understand where are the drops coming from,” said Melea Nalli, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for the Portland district.

Casco Bay Principal Derek Pierce was not available for comment Wednesday.

Nalli noted that the district has been focused in recent years on improving third-grade reading results, which are proven to be a key indicator of future academic success and higher high school graduation rates. At the same time, district officials and the school board have been dissatisfied with the middle school math program, leading to the push to revamp it.

“Our results there (in third grade reading) are stronger than in math, but that doesn’t mean we are taking our eye off the ball,” Nalli said. “That said, it is true the data continues to confirm what we’ve said we need to be focused on, which is our math. Our decision to put our particular emphasis and focus on this is correct.”

Overall statewide results for all students are up, officials noted Monday. In English, 53 percent of students tested at or above grade level, up from 51 percent last year. Math and science scores are 38.5 percent and 61 percent, respectively, up less than a percentage point from last year.

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 switched tests several times in recent years, so these results are the first since 2013 that can be compared with the previous year’s results.

Baxter opened five years ago and just hit its full enrollment of 400 students last year. Michele LaForge, head of school, credited the school’s emphasis on the interconnectedness of math, English and science for its strong outcome.

“You are seeing our program grow,” LaForge said. “We do science work, but it’s reinforced in math. We do writing in math. Each of these core areas supports the others when driven by big questions.”

Charlene Tucker, state director of assessment and accountability, said the new test and associated analytic tools are more robust and useful than past tests. The public website provides state, district and school-level results, parents get individual results for their children, and schools get the most detailed information.

The department will host a meeting for educators in November to explain the new analysis tools, she said.

District officials or school board members may use the data when considering a new math or English program, for example. For others, they want the ability to compare subcategories between schools in their own district, or to compare their district with neighboring or similar districts.

The department spokesperson said Wednesday that no one was available to comment on how the test results and analysis tools will be used to help schools, or if the test results show whether state efforts in recent years to provide extra assistance to struggling schools has had an impact on student test scores.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

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