In 2015, I was a strong supporter of the new Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) assessment, reasoning that it was closely aligned with what should be taught in the classroom and would help guide instruction. Results were to be timely and available to schools soon after administration. State officials further predicted that the MEA would ultimately replace other standardized assessments used in school districts across Maine, resulting in a reduced level of testing overall.

As it turned out, the “new” MEA was much too time-consuming and was jettisoned by the state before the 2015 testing window even ended. We have just completed the second year of the revised MEA, and I believe that it is now time for the state to jettison the revised MEA, as well, and radically rethink the whole thing.

The MEA is robbing our teachers and students of valuable instructional time. This year we had 40 days of interrupted learning. The test is given to grades three, eight and in the third year of high school and also impacts other grades in the same school. For starters, the online test restricts the availability of the internet for classes not being assessed, since we need to reserve bandwidth for the test. We do not have one-to-one computing in most elementary classrooms and therefore, libraries, computers in carts and computer labs are off limits during the testing window, further limiting learning.

This is most problematic in communities such as Lewiston with larger schools, larger class sizes and limited budgets. A school, regardless of size has just one library and, if it has one at all, only one computer lab. One computer or scheduling glitch will impact students throughout the school, whether or not they are being tested.

In addition, Principals and teachers must receive professional development on the MEA administration, and administrators spend too much time on logistical issues around the test, which takes away from support of teaching and learning. The MEA results in many special education teachers being unavailable to service their students because these teachers are busy overseeing the accommodations required for special education students taking the assessment. Likewise, ELL teachers are removed from their regular responsibilities because of accommodations due ELL students. As more parents opt their children out of tests, staff is further stretched by needing to monitor students taking the test and their classmates who are not.

The test itself is taking too much time for students. Over multiple sessions, a fifth-grade student, for example, might take as much as seven hours to be assessed on math, reading, writing and science. There are also many students who, wanting to do well, take the full allotment of test time, further adding to stress and restricting learning. After all this, there is the wait for results. While this year’s results are expected to be released much more timely than the nine months it took with the 2016 test, even a month is too long if the results are to be used for any effective instructional decisions.

The fact is that there are alternative screeners at the district level that provide immediate feedback on student progress. Furthermore, as Maine moves to proficiency-based learning statewide, any national standardized assessments are much less apt to be used by local districts to guide instruction. In fact, if proficiency-based learning is to be taken seriously, Maine and the federal government should also revisit the requirement that school districts administer three universal screeners at each grade level.

I recognize that Maine, in addition to meeting federal requirements, will want to assess and report on the progress of students and schools. The philosophy behind the MEA needs to be changed, however, from seeking a thorough assessment of each individual student to a valid overall measure of student and school performance. This can be accomplished either through sampling, as is done with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or by using a much shorter test, as is done with the NWEA or STAR assessments used in most Maine school districts as universal screeners.

The Maine Educational Assessment is broken and negatively impacting the education of students. I call on educators, legislators, parents and community members to work on making the MEA right. The education of our students demands it.

Bill Webster is Lewiston Superintendent of Schools.

Bill Webster


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