LEWISTON — Superintendent Todd Finn told the School Committee on Monday evening he wants to get student participation in standardized testing to at least 95% to avoid losing federal funding.

Finn said after meeting with some parents at a community forum a couple of weeks ago, he found he wanted to “start a discussion on how we need to rethink standardized testing.”

He said the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, requires no less than 95% of students participate in standardized testing.

Over the past three years, of the district’s nine schools only two, the former Longley Elementary School and Montello School, met the 95% threshold, he said.

Currently, students take the Northwest Evaluation Association test and the Maine Education Assessment.

At the start of each school year, parents receive a letter informing them of their right to opt their child out of taking the tests, while pointing out that the state could be subject to penalties if they do not reach the 95% participation rate.

Lewiston received $2.75 million in Title I funds this year, Finn said.

Title I money is part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which assists local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to ensure all children meet challenging state academic standards.

Finn warned that if Lewiston continues not to meet the 95% threshold, “the federal government can and will hold Maine accountable.”

“We risk losing substantial funding if we do not take action,” Finn added. “Local funds would need to make up for what we lose.”

Janette Kirk, chief of learning systems at the Maine Department of Education, confirmed Finn’s statement, adding that “one of the strings attached to the federal funds is participation rate,” and if a district continues to not meet the conditions set for the funding, “the federal government may ramp up the severity of (its) actions.”

Finn said Lewiston students’ acceptance rate to colleges were “well above the state average.”

“We know we’re doing well,” Finn said. “It’s a matter of getting the community behind a better way to assess.”

Finn said in speaking with parents at community forums, he learned some of their reasons for opting their children out of testing included the testing taking time away from learning and worries their child’s grade point average or their teacher’s evaluation would be impacted by the results.

Finn said that while it may not be possible to get Lewiston’s schools to 95 percent participation rate this school year, he wants to show the government “we’re working on improving the attendance rate, and that we do well when we take the test.”

“The fact we’re not meeting that threshold isn’t the fault of parents, students, or teachers,” Finn continued. “It starts in my office. It’s a superintendent issue right now, and I intend to work closer with the community to get it closer the participation rate closer to 95%.”

Finn said that at future community forums, he hopes to “examine other less expensive and less intrusive local assessment possibilities,” such as the STAR assessments, which are used in Auburn and Regional School Unit 4 in Wales.

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