AUBURN — The acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Education said Wednesday the DOE would look into complaints from Lewiston educators that a new online test students are scheduled to take this spring “doesn’t work.”

Tom Desjardins said during a visit to Edward Little High School that the department was working to train educators on the Smarter Balanced Maine Educational Assessment, which has not yet been administered.

“We just put four more people from the department in the field to help train and ease some of the anxieties,” Desjardins said, adding that concerns from Lewiston were the first he had heard about problems with the online tests.

During the Lewiston School Committee meeting Tuesday night, Lewiston Middle School teacher Brian Banton said that as teachers practiced the test on the iPad, “I was shocked to discover it doesn’t work.”

He told the School Committee that problems included math mistakes that coudn’t be undone on the iPad, or multiplication symbols that didn’t appear in problems. Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster and Lewiston Middle School Principal Shawn Chabot agreed there were problems with not being able to see or understand test questions on iPad screens.

Banton asked the School Committee to ask the state to opt out of online testing until problems are resolved, and to have students take the exam on paper and pencil this year. School Committee Chairman Jim Handy agreed, as did School Committee member Linda Scott.

Webster said Wednesday that Lewiston will send a letter to the Department of Education asking that students take a paper test this year “unless the issues are resolved,” Webster said. “It may be it’s a Lewiston issue.”

The state will send technical support to Lewiston to evaluate the issue, he said.

Desjardins said Wednesday that Lewiston could opt out of having students take the test online this year. And his department has to better understand the problems Lewiston is experiencing.

“We need them to show us” what isn’t working, he said. “We need to look at that and figure out if they’re not using the right device. There are so many technical issues.”

Department spokeswoman Samantha Warren said her department has not heard any concerns about the online testing. Before Wednesday, “Lewiston’s never contacted the department with technology questions. We’ve done dozens of technical assistance visits at the request of schools.” Lewiston had not asked for help, she said.

Desjardins said the new testing is a big jump into a new area. The change will be for the good, he said. Among the advantages are that teachers and parents will get student results back quickly, it’s more cost efficient, the test will better measure individual student strengths and weaknesses so educators can target support and schools won’t have to administer the tests at the same time as other schools anymore.

The window for administration is 12 weeks beginning in March, Desjardins said. “So if technical difficulties are exposed in the early weeks, we’ll be able to correct it.”

Having students take exams online may seem scary to adults, Warren said, but Maine students are in a better position to succeed in an online testing environment because they’ve had access to classroom technology.

Other improvements in the new testing is that lower grades won’t be tested soon after the summer vacation ends, when many have lost what they learned through the summer. School report cards won’t go out this year, Warren said.

Schools in Oxford and Franklin counties say they plan to proceed with the computerized Smarter Balanced tests:

RSU 9: Assistant Superintendent Leanne Condon said she had tested the system, “as Maine DOE asked all districts to do, and we believe our system and the available computers will be appropriate for us.”

For students whose individualized education program includes pencil and paper accommodations for testing situations, the district will ensure those are available.

SAD 17: Curriculum Director Heather Manchester said the district would use its computer labs to do the testing.

SAD 44: Superintendent David Murphy said, “We don’t use iPads at the middle school level, but instead, make use of our laptops for testing purposes.

“I haven’t heard of any problems with the testing, and I also checked with Peter Kuzyk, our IT person. At this point, I think we are all set,” he said.

RSUs 10 and 73 reported that they intend to use technology — including laptops and iPads — for student testing.

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