Maine education chief promotes new assessment in Falmouth

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FALMOUTH — Students at Falmouth Elementary School joined peers from a handful of other schools across the state in taking a new statewide assessment test in its inaugural week.

And according to the acting commissioner of the state Department of Education, who visited the school on March 19, so far, so good.

The new assessment, the Maine Educational Assessment for Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy, replaces the longstanding New England Common Assessment, which measured grades three through eight and 11th grade.

“It’s the first week of the assessment and we wanted to get a sense of how it was going,” acting Commissioner Tom Desjardin said at the Woodville Road school. 

The new assessment began on March 16 and schools have until May 29 to complete the tests, or a month longer than the former NECAP window. Falmouth Elementary School began on opening day, and the Middle School will follow. Students in the high school will take the assessment in May.

Desjardin said the new assessment has a different way of asking questions from the NECAP. He said it inspires more critical thinking from the students and is a better indicator of what a student actually knows, versus how a student did on a test. 

“Hopefully it’s a much more accurate look at their aptitude,” he said.

Desjardin also noted that the NECAP was administered in the fall, usually October, when students were just coming off summer vacation.

“Now they will have most of the school year still in their heads,” he said. 

Additionally, instead of paper and pencils, students are now using digital devices to take the test.

“In the same year we’re doing a new test with a new way of asking questions, we’re making a jump in technology,” Desjardin said.

He added that you could expect a “major meltdown” in the first week. But said that didn’t happen with the new assessment.

Desjardin, who met with Superintendent of Schools Geoff Bruno, School Board Chairman Andrew Kinley, and other school officials during the morning, said the new assessment will be 1 1/2 hours shorter than the NECAP, although since it is new this year and is being taken differently than in the past, there will be more initial prep time.

Desjardin called this a “seminal moment” in education , because the College Board, the nonprofit organization that prepares and administers the standardized tests used for college admission, has started changing the Scholastic Aptitude Test to be more like Maine’s assessment.

“It’s a significant shift in the educational world,” he said, because it will find out what students know and not just how they prepared for a test.

Desjardin was sworn in as acting commissioner on Dec. 23, 2014, after former Commissioner James Reir elected not to return to office following an indefinite medical leave.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Maine’s acting commissioner of education, Tom Desjardin, at Falmouth Elementary School on March 19.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.