The Portland school board voted unanimously Tuesday to support the decision to not administer standardized tests for English language learner students this spring due to logistics and concerns about the value of the testing during the pandemic.

The decision means the district will not move ahead with preparations for the ACCESS for ELL test, typically given annually to students identified as English language learners to test proficiency in listening, speaking, reading and writing English.

The number of English language learners in Maine is small, though they do make up significant populations in Portland and a handful of other southern Maine districts. This year, because of the pandemic, administering the test would pose logistical problems, especially for remote-only students, Superintendent Xavier Botana said. The district has also discussed with the Maine Department of Education an option for families who may want to take the test.

Some school districts, including Biddeford and Lewiston, plan to move ahead with the testing, although the superintendent in South Portland said this month that the district plans to take an approach similar to Portland and not give the test. Although annual standardized testing of ELL students is a federal requirement and no waivers have been granted to date, Botana said at a board workshop this month there do not appear to be significant consequences for not offering the test for a single year.

“In a different scenario the ultimate consequence would be the state being penalized with some of their administrative funds and then being put on an improvement plan to ensure this doesn’t happen again, so that’s what the ultimate consequences could be,” he said.

In other news Tuesday, the board also held a workshop to discuss a resolution condemning a recent spate of hate mail targeting LGBTQ residents and received an update from the superintendent on the future of childcare programming being funded with federal coronavirus aid.

The U.S. Department of Education announced an additional $183 million in coronavirus relief for K-12 schools in Maine earlier this month as well as an extension for using funds awarded last year. Botana said Tuesday the additional funding and extension puts the district in a good position to extend community partnership programs that have been providing remote day and before and after care for students during hybrid learning. The board is expected next month to consider a plan to continue the community partners program through the end of the school year.

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