Standardized test results for Maine students dipped slightly in the 2017-18 school year, with half of Maine students testing at or above grade level for English, and 37 percent testing at or above grade level for math.
In 2016-17, 53 percent of students were at or above grade level in English, and 39 percent were at or above grade level in math. In science, 59 percent of Maine students were at or above grade level in 2017-18, down slightly from 61 percent the previous year.
The results for math and English are from tests given to all students in third through eighth grades, and SAT results for juniors in high school. Science results are from a test given to students in fifth and eighth grades and to high school juniors.
This is the third year the same test has been given to students in Maine’s 260 school districts, allowing education experts to begin building a data set to draw conclusions about trends. The state changed tests repeatedly in previous years, limiting the value of comparisons to previous years’ results.
Students take the standardized tests known as Maine Educational Assessments, or MEAs, every year. Individual school and grade level results released Monday for the 2017-18 academic year are available at the Department of Education’s website.
The top-scoring school districts in English, with at least 75 percent of students at or above grade level, were Five Town Consolidated School District in Camden (81 percent); Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland (80 percent); Falmouth (77.5 percent); Yarmouth (77 percent); Damariscotta (76 percent); Cape Elizabeth (75 percent); and Carrabassett Valley (75 percent.)
There were no school districts in the state that had at least 75 percent of their students at or above grade level in math.
The top outcome was 71 percent in Falmouth. Other top-scoring districts in math, with at least 60 percent of students scoring at or above grade level, were: Yarmouth (70 percent); MSAD 51 in Cumberland (67 percent); Cape Elizabeth (63 percent); Carrabassett Valley (62.5 percent) and Chebeague Island (61 percent.)
Science results were much stronger, with 21 school districts reporting at least 75 percent of students at or above grade level. The top five districts were Bar Harbor (89 percent); Lincolnville (84 percent); Great Salt Bay Consolidated School District in Damariscotta (83 percent); Falmouth (82 percent); and Cape Elizabeth (81 percent.)
The test used in Maine had changed repeatedly in recent years, partly in response to broader anti-testing sentiment across the nation. Maine students are now in the third year of taking what’s known as the “empower ME” test, which was developed by New Hampshire-based Measured Progress Inc.
Before that, students took the Smarter Balanced test for one year, but the state Legislature voted to drop the Smarter Balanced test after educators and parents said it was flawed and difficult to administer and take.
Standardized tests have been controversial for years, particularly under No Child Left Behind, the main federal K-12 education law for more than a decade. Two years ago, the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was implemented, shifting more authority to states and freeing them from federal demands that had been in place for more than a dozen years, but it still requires annual standardized tests.
In Portland, one of the city’s four public high schools – Casco Bay High School – showed huge year-over-year gains in English, math and science, but only minor changes over the three-year period. In English, the school had 74 percent of students at or above grade level, up from 65 percent in 2017, and just a percentage point shy of the 75 percent in 2016. In math, results jumped to 45 percent at or above grade level, up from 33 in 2017, but lower than the 47 percent reported in 2016. In science, 61 percent were at or above grade level in the most recent school year, up from 53 percent in 2017, but down from 64 percent in 2016.
The Portland-based charter school Baxter Academy for Technology and Science saw its math scores plummet back to the 2016 level, and dip slightly in English. For math, Baxter had 45 percent at or above grade level, down from 61 percent in 2017, but even with the 45 percent reported in 2016. In English, Baxter ranked as the eighth-highest scoring school in the state, with 80 percent of students at or above grade level, down from 83 in 2017 but up from 78 percent in 2016. Science scores, at 71 percent, were down from 73 percent in 2017, but up from the 64 percent in 2016.
The fluctuations seen over a three-year period are why some education experts say you need at least five years of data on the same test before attempting to draw conclusions.
Deering High School in Portland saw an increase to 52 percent of students at or above grade level in English, up from 50 in 2016 and 2017; the math scores increased to 31 percent at or above grade level, up from 28 percent in 2017 but down from 33 percent in 2016. Science scores jumped to 41 percent at or above grade level, up from 31 percent the two previous years.
Portland High School results dropped in English – 60 percent at or above grade level, compared to 63 in 2017 and 61 percent in 2016; its math scores increased to 38 percent at or above grade level, compared to 32 and down slightly from 40 percent in 2016. Science scores increased to 37 percent, up from 32, but lower than the 41 percent in 2016.
Portland district officials did not respond to emails seeking comment Monday, when school was off for Veterans Day.
The results of the state assessment test cannot be compared to other states or national averages. For that, Maine and the rest of the nation participates in the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, known as the “Nation’s Report Card.”
In the most recent results, released in April, Maine students met or exceeded national averages, but were lower than average for the Northeast region.