Lewiston superintendent: Scores don’t reflect student progress

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LEWISTON — Recent state test scores show Lewiston students in grades three through eight changed little from the past year, down slightly in reading, up slightly in math.

Most Lewiston elementary school scores were lower than state averages.

In math, 49 percent of Lewiston elementary students were proficient in math in 2011, compared to 48 percent in 2010. Statewide, 63 percent of students were proficient in 2011.

In reading, 56 percent of Lewiston students were proficient in 2011, down from 58 percent in 2010. Statewide, 72 percent of students last year were proficient in reading.

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Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster said the New England Common Assessment Program scores were disappointing, “and make clear the magnitude of work before us. At the same time, I want to emphasize that the NECAP is the wrong test administered at the wrong time.”

A more accurate reflection of student growth is the Northwest Evaluation Association test, which Lewiston administers. But a lot of weight is put on the NECAP test scores, Webster said. Families look at the scores, “and to the casual observer, Lewiston scores are not what you’d want to see” when picking a school. Those scores “will always be disappointing until we get to a better test,” he said.

Educators could spend the month of September grilling students to do better on the test, “but that’s not what schools exist for.”

One problem with the NECAP test is that it is given to students in October, not long after they’ve returned from summer vacation. That’s a bigger disadvantage to Lewiston students than other, richer communities, Webster said.

Students in poorer households have a greater loss of learning in the summer than students in higher-income households, because children in higher-income families are more likely to be involved in enrichment activities and reading.

Longley Elementary School on Birch Street, where the majority of students are poor and learning English, had the lowest scores: 15 percent of Longley students were proficient in reading, down 2 percentage points from 2010. Longley’s math scores were up 5 percentage points.

Lewiston schools with the highest scores were Geiger and Farwell, both in middle-income neighborhoods. Seventy-three percent of students at Geiger tested at proficient levels in reading; at Farwell, 69 percent were proficient in reading. Sixty-one percent of students at Geiger were proficient in math; at Farwell, 63 percent tested proficient in math.

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen has said the NECAP test will be retired after 2013. Maine will administer a more sophisticated assessment system in 2014-15 that will provide more comprehensive information about how students are learning. Maine is one of 28 states building an improved assessment system.

“Those assessments will do more than simply hold schools accountable under the outdated and sometimes counterproductive No Child Left Behind Act,” Bowen said in a prepared statement. 

“Coupled with information systems that can track learner growth over time, we’ll be able to provide teachers with quality information about how kids are doing, so they can develop and adapt personal learning plans for each child,” Bowen said.

Test results are being dissected and a presentation will be given to the Lewiston School Committee on Feb. 27, Webster said.

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