The federal Department of Education has warned Maine that it may lose funding for low-income students because the way student achievement is measured does not comply with federal law.

“Achievement standards that are inconsistent with statutory requirements substantially undermine reporting of assessment results to parents, teachers, and principals and on State and local report cards,” the agency wrote in a letter sent Friday to Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin.

The state hopes to work with the federal agency to resolve the issue, a spokesperson for Makin said in a statement Wednesday. “The Department believes that Maine’s assessment model fully meets federal requirements,” Marcus Mrowka said.

In the letter to Makin, the U.S. Department of Education said Maine’s student testing in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years violated federal law that requires state education departments to measure student achievement against specific criteria and standards. It said the state has therefore been designated “high-risk” for Title I part A funds for low-income students and may lose $117,442 if it does not show by March 13 why the funds should not be withheld.

Assessing students with achievement standards that adhere to federal legal requirements “provides comparable statewide information about school performance that can help school leaders, parents, and stakeholders make important decisions about needed school supports and resources,” wrote James F. Lane, senior adviser at the education department’s office of elementary and secondary education.

Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, state education departments must assess students against specific content standards so educators, parents, guardians and other relevant parties can establish whether students are achieving at an appropriate level. The DOE says Maine failed to do this with the temporary assessment it used during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Maine DOE used an assessment during the pandemic that measures student growth throughout a year. Those results are not comparable to data from assessments administered prior to the pandemic when the state used the Maine Education Assessment, which measured how much someone knows compared to a set of standards. Maine is officially replacing the MEA, known as a summative assessment, with the new model, known as a through-year assessment.

Maine has until March 13 to show why the federal department should not withhold funds and until Dec. 2023 to implement a plan to set achievement standards that are consistent with federal law, test students on those standards, report results to parents and use that information to identify schools that need additional support.

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