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Most Mid-Coast schools meet standards in final MEA

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Most Mid-Coast schools meet standards in final MEA

As the state casts the final curtain call on the Maine Educational Assessment, it reports that Mid-Coast schools fared well in the 2009 round of testing, meeting achievement level standards in nearly every grade and subject.

The Maine Department of Education announced Aug. 13 that the percentage of students meeting the standards rose in almost all grades for reading and math. It's a good bow for the MEA to take before the state switches to the New England Common Assessment Program this fall.

Reviewing his schools' results on Monday, Regional School Unit 1 Superintendent William Shuttleworth said that "Overall, they look good. You still have some pockets of kids who struggle on formalized testing, usually children who are identified as special needs."

While Bath schools generally met the standards, Bath Middle School's eighth grade scored 837 in mathematics, six points lower than the state results, and only partially met the standards.

"Definitely we have made some strong gains in both reading and math, and we're very happy with that," the superintendent said.

The eighth grade at Bath Middle School and the fifth grade at Fisher-Mitchell School scored 844 and 541 points in science respectively, both two points lower than the state results but still meeting the standards. Science testing for grade 5 began in 2008-09.

"There were no pockets of difficulty," Shuttleworth said. "We have realigned our science curriculum with the Maine Learning Results. That was the biggest change in probably the entire Maine Learning Results, was the entire shift in science. So given that, there were totally different elements on the test, and our kids did pretty good."

In preparing for the transition from the MEA to the NECAP, Shuttleworth said RSU 1 is improving its focus on writing, an element not included on the final MEA test due to the switch to the NECAP writing assessment. He said the unit will have a committee this year focusing on strengthening students' writing processes.

"Statewide writing scores have been poor," Shuttleworth said. "And we just need to strength that. Of course, you live in the digital world, now that kids communicate in a far different way of writing. They communicate with Twitter and blogs and short sound bites. MEAs don't measure that."

RSU 1 has used state-released past tests in order to familiarize students with the MEA, Shuttleworth said. He anticipates receiving such items for NECAP preparation as well.

School Administrative District 75 saw all scores meeting the standards, while West Harpswell School's third grade math score of 361 – 13 points higher than the state number – exceeded the standards. The Williams-Cone School in Topsham had 353 points for that category and grade, and the Harpswell Islands School had 354.

In nearly every case SAD 75's schools were equal to or greater than the state average.

SAD 75 Superintendent Mike Wilhelm said the district's overall scores were better than last year, reflecting a trend in the state. The Maine Department of Education reported on Aug. 13 that the percentage of students who met achievement level standards on this year's MEA rose in grades 3 through 8 in both reading and math, except for grade 8 reading, which saw unchanged grades from last year.

The percentage of students who met standards rose by up to 8 percentage points in 4th grade reading, and as little as 1 percent in eighth grade math. This year's scores reflect a continuation of a three-year trend of gradual increases in the number of students meeting achievement.

"If the state scores have trended up, and we're above the state scores, we've done better than the state in that trend," Wilhelm said. "So our kids are doing pretty well."

Part of that success likely comes from the district's implementation of a Response to Intervention approach in its schools, which focuses largely on literacy.

"We also implemented a new math program," Wilhelm added. "Between those two efforts, I think that helped contribute to the increase in the scores."

The superintendent noted that in small schools – West Harpswell's fifth grade had 7 tested students, for example – one or two pupils at the top or bottom of the group can skew the overall school score.

"Unless you look at them in the larger numbers, as a trend, they don't tell you all that much," Wilhelm said.

He pointed out that by examining how many students fall into the four scoring categories – exceeds, meets, partially meets and does not meet standards – the district can target its instruction to improve deficient areas.

Although most of Brunswick's schools met the standards, the Hawthorne elementary school did so only partially in fifth grade math and science, where it had 23 test takers. It also partially met the standards in fourth grade math. Still, Hawthorne exceeded the state number of 348 by four points in third grade math.

Greg Bartlett, assistant superintendent of Brunswick schools, noted that district-wide numbers had not changed much over those of last year.

"Our comparison at every grade level, grades three through eight, it's up one point or down one point," Bartlett said. "And so, it's not statistically significant unless you get four, five or six points up or four, five or six points down ... We're at or above the state average. I say that every year, and it doesn't seem to change."

Bartlett said local school officials have been told that NECAP will be similar to the MEA, and that it will still be geared toward meeting Maine Learning Results standards.

"This will give us a baseline," he said of the first round of NECAP testing. "And then in subsequent years, let's see how we can get those scores to go up over time."

In trying to address deficient areas, Brunswick is focusing increasingly on subgroups, as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"Historically, I don't think we're any different than other school systems in the state," Bartlett said. "Students with disabilities are going to have a difficult time on tests like this, and that's what we've tried to confront as much as we can."

He added that the subgroup of economically disadvantaged students is another area needing greater focus.

While the MEA is unquestionably an important indicator, Bartlett said, it is only one indicator. Critical signifiers of a student's performance also come in the form of quiz and test results and reports on student behavior coming home from the teacher, he explained, as well as the activities a student is involved in.

"We have people that harangue us about our test scores all the time, but they don't even want to pay any attention to all these other accomplishments that are taking place in the school system," Bartlett said.

"Academic achievement is very important, but it's also the kind of people that we're nurturing here," he added. "To say these tests are the end-all and be-all, I don't buy it. It's important information ... but we have to look at everything. The whole picture. Would you want to be judged on just one indicator? I wouldn't."

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.