Maine up in 8th grade math; flat elsewhere

Ed commissioner calls for focus on literacy in light of latest NAEP scores

AUGUSTA – Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said nationwide test results released today are modestly encouraging in some areas, but point to the need for more and better sharing of best practices and resources across the state. He called on his Department and schools to undertake a concerted effort to improve literacy achievement.

According to the results from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Maine is one of only 13 states to show an improvement in 8th grade mathematics achievement. In 4th grade math and in reading in grades 4 and 8, Maine showed no statistically significant change. And, while not yet statistically significant, the NAEP grade 4 reading scores are trending downward.

“Maine has continued to show no progress in reading for far too many years.” Bowen said. “There is compelling scientific research about how kids learn to read, but we are not applying those methods universally.”

The Department is already working with educators in the field on a statewide literacy plan, expected to be completed before the end of the year, which will focus on better coordination of existing literacy systems and on how the state can provide more resources such as professional development to teachers, early childhood providers, parents and others.

“We need to look at structural changes in the way we educate our students,” Bowen said. “We’re talking about clear and rigorous standards, building a system based on the needs of students rather than the structures we adults are familiar with, and giving teachers the training, resources, and accountability they need to be effective.”

NAEP is the only national assessment that puts all states on the same scale. It is administered to a sample group of schools in each state and is separate from Maine’s own accountability assessments – the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) in grades 3 through 8 and the SAT in grade 11. NAEP allows for comparison in ways that state standards, each set by individual states, do not. NAEP’s definition of “proficient” is more rigorous than in most states.

As an example, 59 percent of Maine students were proficient or above in 8th grade math in 2010, according to the state’s standards; according to NAEP, 39 percent of Maine students performed at or above proficient in 2011 (compared to a national average of 34 percent).

“Maine, which has been seen as having generally rigorous standards in comparison to other states, is still setting the bar too low,” Bowen said. “The Governor has said and I have said – and, frankly, most of our educators agree – that we must move toward more rigor. NAEP’s expectations are in line with other advanced education systems around the world. Why would we expect less of our own students in the U.S. and in Maine?”

Maine continues to score above the national average in both reading and math at both levels. However, other states have improved over the past decade while Maine’s scores and the percentage of students “proficient” – that is, meeting or exceeding expectations – has remained largely flat.

One area in which Maine continues to lead is in its “inclusion rate.” While the sample schools in some states allow many of its students to opt out of NAEP testing because of special needs, Maine has been successful in reducing that number significantly, exceeding the inclusion rate standard set by the board that governs the NAEP assessment. This gives Maine the best possible information about how all students are doing. When other states do the same, it also allows Maine to see how it compares.

Below are some data highlights.

Grade 4 Mathematics

  • Average score in Maine is 244, compared to a national average of 240.
  • Maine’s average score and its percent proficient are not significantly different than in 2009.
  • The percentage of students who performed at or above proficient was 45 percent, compared to 40 percent nationally.

Grade 8 Mathematics

  • Maine is one of only 13 states to show significant improvement in this content area/grade level since 2009.
  • Average score in Maine is 289, compared to a national average of 283.
  • The percentage of students who performed at or above proficient was 39 percent, compared to 35 percent in 2009, and compared to 34 percent nationally in 2011.

Grade 4 Reading

  • Average score in Maine is 222, compared to a national average of 220.
  • The 2011 score is lower than the 1992 average score of 227, showing a decline in Maine.
  • The percentage of students who performed at or above proficient was 32 percent, about the same as the nation, and not statistically different from Maine performance in 1992 or 2009.

Grade 8 Reading

  • Average score in Maine is 270, compared to national average of 264.
  • The 2011 Maine average is not significantly different from the average in 1998 or 2009.
  • The percentage of students who performed at or above proficient was 39 percent, compared to 32 percent nationally.

For detailed information on Maine’s scores on the NAEP website, go to and click on Maine.

David Connerty-Marin | Maine Department of Education | 207-624-6880

2 thoughts on “Maine up in 8th grade math; flat elsewhere

  1. Audrey, agreed on both counts – Maine is not doing as well as it must, and it’s going to be difficult to change that considering the current financial climate. Still, we can’t afford not to shift to a model of education that meets the needs of all students, that makes sure that all students are meeting rigorous learning standards.

  2. As always , only the data that compares ALL students in ALL states are reported. Since Maine is 97% white and since the NAEP data provides data comparing ethnic groups, let’s look at that: fourth-grade math, tied for 33rd ;eighth-grade math, tied for 31st.
    Reading: fourth grade, tied for 43rd; eighth grade, tied for 30th. Dosn’t sound quite as good, does it?
    But let us not jump on a transformation that we cannot afford in terms of dollars. RISC was dropped by the DOE because of funding, Teaching Learning Unit (TLU) program was dropped for the same reason. INEVITABLE;MASS CUSTOMIZED LEARNING by Chuck Schwahn and Bea McGarvey is a book given to each superintendent by our DOE. Both authors are involved with RISC and McGarvey who used the TLC program in a Portland school admits that TLC was dropped for lack of funds. Money is more scarce now than it was in the early 70s.

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