Maine to join regional school testing program
After 25 years of testing students in grades 3 through 8 using the Maine Educational Assessment, the Department of Education will administer a new test, the New England Common Assessment Program.
The NECAP test is a regional assessment that is used in New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and now Maine.
David Connerty-Marin, the communications director for the Maine Department of Education, said the MEA and NECAP are similar in format with comparable questions, but the tests have a few differences.
One difference is the timing of the test, he said. The MEA test was administered in March, and the NECAP will be given October 1. Because of the timing, students will be tested on materials from their previous year. In addition, the DOE will only conduct reading, writing and mathematics tests for students in grades 3 through 8, not the NECAP science test. The DOE will continue to use the MEA test for science.
The NECAP writing test has several writing prompts and multiple choice questions, unlike the MEA test. Last year the MEA writing question was discounted, leaving teachers and administrators with no data to evaluate.
According to a press release from the DOE, the percentage of students meeting achievement level standards on the 2009 MEA increased in all grades from 3 to 8 in both reading and mathematics. In grade 8 the reading scores remained unchanged from the year before.
In Freeport, math scores were down slightly for eighth-graders, with 13 percent of students exceeding expectations in 2009, down from 17 percent last year. There was also an increase in students not meeting math standards in grade 8, from 20 percent to 24 percent.
In fifth grade, students improved from 17 percent exceeding expectations to 30 percent this year, and in third grade, there has been a significant increase from 15 to 26 percent.
Superintendent Shannon Welsh said the Everyday Math program has been used for one year, and while it's hard to gauge, math improvements may be linked to the new program.
"Staff believe students are performing better in math, and the scores indicate improvements," she said. "I am proud of the efforts of both students and staff."
In reading scores, eighth-graders improved slightly with 33 percent exceeding standards, up from 28 percent last year. Only 4 percent of students do not meet standards, an improvement from last year's 14 percent.
In the third grade, 4 percent of students exceed expectations, an improvement from zero percent last year.
Students in Yarmouth improved or remained the same in both math and reading scores from last year's tests. In eighth grade, 30 percent of students exceeded state standards, an increase of 10 percent from last year. In reading, 48 percent of eighth-graders exceed state standards, three points higher than last year.
Fifth grade math scores improved as well, with 34 percent exceeding standards compared to 19 percent last year. But in third grade, there was a slight decline in math scores, from 45 percent exceeding standards last year, to 31 percent this year. Reading scores remained the same or improved slightly.
Superintendent Judy Paolucci said she is familiar with the NECAP tests and used them in Rhode Island for the past five years, where she was a school administrator. She said it will be important to look closely at the scores to gain insight into the student's academic strengths and problem areas.
"The NECAP is beneficial as an indication of students' progress from year to year, but also as a comparison to students in other states with similar demographics," she said. "It is a great tool to use to learn more about student learning."
Looking more closely at test results will allow teachers to help students improve in areas that give them the most trouble, Paolucci said.
She said administering the new test will also help neighboring communities discuss education techniques collaboratively, not competitively.
"We can learn a lot about our students through these tests," Paolucci said.
Falmouth Schools Superintendent Barbara Powers said the district is "very pleased" with the seven-point jump in the eighth grade math scores, adding that there has been a real focus on the transition between eighth and ninth grade math skills.
"Teachers have been working really hard to make sure key concepts are taught," she said. "(Eighth grade) math at 858 average score was close to the exemplary of 861 – a remarkable performance."
In third, fifth and eighth grade testing, a total of four scaled scores increased, while only two decreased – fifth grade math went down one point and third grade reading went down two points.
Powers said they are also pleased at the "very low numbers" in all testing areas in the "does not meet expectations" category – a scaled score that ranged from zero to 5 percent.
"I continue to be pretty amazed and proud at the performance our teachers are able to elicit from these kids," she said.
The switch to NECAPs this year offers the chance for Maine districts to be compared directly with those of other states but at the same time creates several new challenges, Powers said. She has a concern particularly for third graders who will now be taking their first standardized tests in October, rather than in the spring. In October, Powers said, "third grade is still in transition."
Falmouth will also have to find groups out-of-state to compare its district with, as they now do in-state with School Administrative District 51 and Cape Elizabeth.
Results for School Administrative District 51, which includes Cumberland and North Yarmouth, will appear in next week's edition of The Forecaster.
Peggy Roberts contributed to this report. Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org