2017-11-03 / Front Page

Students shine on MEA test

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The latest Maine Educational Assessment scores are in and for another year, Scarborough students academically performed better than their peers in terms of meeting state expectations.

Last school year, according to the MEA results, 76.7 percent of the Scarborough High School students who took the test either were at, or above the state expectation in English, 58.4 percent met or exceed the standard in math and 64.1 percent reached the mark in science.

At Scarborough Middle School, 73.4 percent were at or above expectation in English, 55.9 percent in math and 85.8 percent in science. Students at Wentworth also did well in English (73.1 percent at or above expectation), math (60.9 percent) and science (83.3 percent).

Statewide 52.5 percent of students met or exceeded English expectations, while 38.5 reached that mark in math and 61 percent in science. All were increases over the 2015- 2016 numbers.

Director of Curriculum and Assessment Monique Culbertson and improvement strategists Barbara Hathorn and Kathy Tirrell will analyze the results to come up with ways to improve the curriculum and align that work with the Every Student Succeeds Act and the transition to proficiency-based education. The board of education met in a workshop session with central office leadership and building principals Oct. 19 to look over the results and come up with inferences about what the data means.

Culbertson told the Leader last week it is too soon to draw definitive conclusions about the math and English language results since the state has only been using the testing system eMPowerMe since 2015.

“When we look at performance, before we make any significant shift in programming, we really want at least three years of data,” she said.

The state assessment in science, however, has been the same since 2009 and after drawing conclusions based on student performance trends in the 2015-2016 school year, the eighth grade science curriculum was overhauled and the materials used were updated.

As a result, Culbertson said Scarborough’s performance in eighth-grade science improved. In the 2014-2015 school year, eighth-graders performed five percentage points ahead of the state average. By 2015- 2016, the first year of the new science curriculum, the number had grown to 12 percentage points. For last year’s testing, it was 17 percentage points.

Culbertson said this year’s mark of just fewer than 86 percent of eighth-grade students at or above stand expectation is the highest it has been in six years.

Aside from the new science curriculum, based on trend data, the school system introduced a new K-8 math curriculum in the 2011-2012 school year and a new K-5 writing curriculum in 2014- 2015. A new reading curriculum for those students was put in place last school year.

With the results now in hand, Culbertson and instructional improvement strategists will begin comparing Scarborough’s data to comparable school districts (based on enrollment and community profile), which include RSU 21 (Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel), RSU 35 (South Berwick) and RSU 5 (Freeport), as well as nearby school districts in South Portland, Gorham, RSU 14 (Raymond and Windham), RSU 57 (Waterboro) and Brunswick. Results will also be compared to Scarborough’s aspirational school districts (Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth, York and Cumberland).

Board member Donna Beeley is no fan of standardized testing, especially the financial resources spent to implement testing statewide. She said the tests don’t offer the best assessment of how a student is doing.

“If you want to know how your kid is doing, go have a conversation with their teacher. You probably already know how your kid is doing. We don’t need to spend the type of money we do on testing,” she said at the Oct. 19 school board workshop aimed at analyzing the most recent results.

Scarborough High School Principal David Creech said the challenge with using a standardized test to measure student comprehension is the way it is formatted is unlike how students are assessed in the classroom.

“Sometimes the way it is worded is foreign to kids,” he said after looking over sample questions in his small group. “They don’t have that level of comfort and it affects the results.”

Culbertson recognizes those concerns, but still sees value in standardized assessments.

“A standardized test, whether online or paper and pencil can only measure a certain level of rigor and we have other performance based assessments that give us other data as to what a student can do,” she said.

“The value in the standardized assessments is when we track data, we can see programmatically over time where our students are heading in the rigor a standardized test can measure,” she added.

Analyzing the MEA data, Culbertson told board members and school leadership, doesn’t help to improve student performance, but teacher performance as well.

Improvement strategies, she noted, is based on MEA results, but also feedback from teachers and other student assessment.

“We have rich teacher data because they know the students better than one standardized assessment or test,” Culbertson said.

Maine Department of Education Commissioner Robert Hasson, Jr., was pleased with the statewide MEA performance.

“I am encouraged with how well our students are performing. In 2016-17, students were assessed for the third time on the rigorous standards Maine adopted in 2011 and while participation rates remained high, students showed consistent improvement,” he said in a press release announcing the dissemination of results. “This is a true testament to the hard work and determination of our students and their teachers.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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