PORTLAND (AP) – For the first time, eighth graders across the state will use their laptops to take part of a state assessment test.

The students will take the writing portion of the Maine Education Assessment test online in March. The experiment will be conducted in all school districts that have the proper network capabilities.

By 2005 the Maine Department of Education plans to be online with all four portions of the assessment – reading, writing, mathematics, science and technology.

The plan is part of the state’s ongoing integration of laptops in middle schools. All of the state’s seventh- and eight-grade students are provided with laptops under the program.

School systems will need to pass a certification process that shows they have the training and technology infrastructure.

Districts that pass will offer the writing portion online this March, while the paper version will be available for others.

Every district in the state is expected to be certified by March of next year.

Officials believe the new system could aid teachers. They say gradual implementation will reduce costs associated with the traditional test without hurting performance.

The Education Department and Measured Progress, the New Hampshire-based test contractor, has been testing the online software.

The transition from paper tests to the online system should not be difficult for public schools participating in the state’s laptop program for seventh- and eighth-grade students, Deputy Education Commissioner Patrick Phillips said.

“With No Child Left Behind, anxiety levels have increased in recent months,” Phillips said. “This will give us a chance to ease our way into the test and give everyone a comfort level.”

AP-ES-01-03-04 1227EST

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