Brunswick test results skewed by opt-outs, state inconsistency

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BRUNSWICK — The results of last year’s Maine Educational Assessment are in, and Brunswick students, on the whole, outperformed the rest of the state.

In each grade that took the test, except the fifth, Brunswick students scored higher than the state average, according to School Department data.

But, Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin warned at an Oct. 21 School Board workshop, people “should not make too much” of the scores.

Last year’s state assessment was developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The computer-based test assessed math and literacy and was administered to students in grades 3-8, and grade 11.

The state spent $2.7 million to administer that test.

But the Legislature voted to kill its relationship with Smarter Balanced in June, after the test was widely criticized for being poorly designed and difficult to use.

For that reason, the Smarter Balanced test was kind of like the Hale-Bopp Comet, Makin said. “You see it one time in your lifetime, and then it’s gone.”

“It’s not useful for year-to-year comparisons,” she said.

Additionally, the results were skewed because a large number of students opted out of the test.

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski in June called Brunswick “the opt-out capital of Maine.

According to Maine Department of Education data, though, Yarmouth is the opt-out capital: fewer than 10 percent of 11th-graders at the high school participated in the tests. Brunswick did not break the top 20 on the list of schools with the highest opt-outs rates.

On Wednesday, Makin added some more detail to Brunswick’s opt-out numbers.

Pairing students who opted out of the Smarter Balanced test with their previous scores on the New England Common Assessment Program, Makin reported that 75 percent of the students who opted out of the Smarter Balanced test at Harriet Beecher Stowe elementary scored “proficient” or “distinguished” on the NECAP.

Ninety-six percent of those who opted out of of the test at Brunswick Junior High School scored proficient or distinguished the previous year, she added, and that number was 90 percent at the high school.

MDOE earlier this week announced it had conditionally approved a contract with New Hampshire-based firm Measured Progress to develop the math and literacy assessments for this year’s MEA.

In several states, Measured Progress works as a testing contractor for Smarter Balanced, using a Smarter Balanced delivery platform to administer its assessments, the Bangor Daily News reported.

Measured Progress settled a case in Nevada for $1.3 million over a failed testing system, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, and is currently involved in  litigation in North Dakota for technical difficulties in administering the tests, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

Speaking after Wednesday night’s meeting, Makin said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if opt-out rates remain high next year.

Parents and students “have no trust in the tests,” she said. Additionally, “there’s eroding confidence in the Maine Department of Education … (its) direction seems to swing back and forth like a pendulum,” she said.

High opt-outs rates have consequences; under No Child Left Behind, 95 percent of students must participate in state tests, or the school is labeled as “failing.” A failing listing could bring penalties, such as having federal funds withheld.

In Brunswick, “a lot of people do not have the stomach to defend (these tests) at this point,” Makin said.

For now, “(we’ll keep) relying on the integrity and quality of the educational experience in our classrooms,” she added.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

The Brunswick School Department central office on Federal Street.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.