State and feds threaten to pull funding over standardized test opt-outs

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BRUNSWICK — Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin informed the School Board Wednesday night that the federal and state departments of education have threatened to pull school funding if the district does not meet a 95 percent participation rate in upcoming Maine Education Assessment standardized tests.

Maine DOE received a “letter of concern” from the federal education department after high numbers of students opted-out of the 2015 MEA, developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, threatening increased monitoring and withheld funds if the state did not meet the threshold.

Furthermore, the state has since said it would withhold funds from districts that do not meet the federal participation rate, Makin said.

Statewide, the average participation rate was under 90 percent last year, according to MDOE data.

At Brunswick High School last year, more than a third of 11th graders opted out of the standardized test.

Some schools, such as Yarmouth High School, saw fewer than 10 percent of its 11th graders take the Smarter Balanced test.

The legislature dropped Smarter Balance last May, and has since hired a new company, Measured Progress, to deliver the computer-based assessment.

But school districts in Maine have not even seen that test yet, and examinations are set to begin March 21.

Makin said that the company has promised to have testing materials available no later than March 14.

“It puts us in the very uncomfortable situation … of having to sell an assessment package we haven’t seen yet,” she said after the meeting.

But she said her message to parents is that “It’s very important to the school system, and the state of Maine, that we do meet the testing threshold.”

Measured Progress made headlines last year for a botched delivery of assessments in Nevada; the company eventually paid $1.3 million to the state for setbacks.

Without even seeing the new test, however, some district administrators were critical of the new material.

In a March 7 letter to the school district, Superintendent Perzanoski wrote that the testing times for grades 3-8 would amount to about six hours total. By contrast, 11th graders are set to take the SAT, which clocks in at just under four hours.

The alternate MEA science test for grades 5, 8, and 11, is about two hours.

“Why are we testing students in grades 3-8 two hours per student longer than grade 11?,” Perzanoski wrote in the letter.

He urged parents to reach out to their legislators to voice their issues with standard test times.

“Our apathy will only prolong our agony,” he wrote.

On Wednesday night, school board members had similar disdain for the new testing choice.

“(The legislature) replaced (Smarter Balanced) with a test that’s exactly the same amount of time,” said Board Vice Chairwoman Joy Prescott. “It makes no sense to me.” 

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

Brunswick School Department central offices 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.