Portland forum focuses on fair, accurate assessment

PORTLAND — About 40 people turned out for a public forum at Portland Arts and Technology High School on Dec. 14 to discuss a new system for holding schools accountable, recognizing success and supporting schools in need of improvement with Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

The forum at PATHS was the third Commissioner Bowen has held this month to collect feedback from the public as Maine prepares to submit its request for Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility to the U.S. Department of Education.

Below is a summary of forum participants’ comments and suggestions:

  • Recommendation to consult the Achievement Gap Initiative as the State assembles a plan aimed at closing such gaps.
  • A school with a high percentage of special education students can make marked progress in improving the achievement of their students. But under No Child Left Behind, that school would still likely be a failure — due to low aggregate achievement by special education students and lower levels of participation in standardized testing among that population.
  • In determining how to identify and recognize “reward schools,” the State should take care to consider socioeconomic factors. Otherwise, schools in communities of high socioeconomic status are almost certain to end up on top.
  • The Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate, which only counts students as graduates if they complete high school in four years, is an unfair and dishonest measure of a school’s true graduation rate. The formula views students who need an extra year to finish high school as dropouts.
  • Judging a school’s success on absolute achievement on standardized tests isn’t representative of that school’s effect on students. For example, it’s unrealistic to expect an English Language Learner student to pass a culturally specific test a few months after arriving in the United States. It’s a more accurate indicator of a school’s effectiveness to measure a student’s growth throughout the school year.
  • Maine can’t get rid of the SAT as the high school-level standardized test soon enough.
  • Reward success, support improvement: Maine needs to rework the funding formula in a dramatic way to set aside funds to support schools that need it, supplement existing resources for helping schools improve.
  • Since students arrive at school at all different ability levels, a school can’t show the growth it might actually be effecting through the assessment regime currently in place.
  • SMARTER Balanced, the new assessment system under development by 30 states, testing is going to take too much class time to administer. It’s going to be unwieldy, and the last thing Maine’s schools need is more time spent on testing.
  • A teacher who involved her fourth-grade students in weighing in on Maine’s ESEA Flexibility request said her students thought the following factors were the most important in measuring teacher effectiveness: data from teacher observations by administrators, teacher observations by peers, data from student surveys, and data from teacher and administrator self-evaluations.
  • Assessments need to measure the skills that are not measured by the current generation of standardized tests. In many cases, the schools themselves might have the data to show that students have reached a certain level of proficiency, gained certain skills.
  • “Our assessment tools need to catch up with the way we’re teaching our kids,” said one teacher. Multiple-choice testing doesn’t capture dynamic, hands-on, community- and project-based learning — learning of necessary, 21st-century skills.
  • No Child Left Behind has largely marginalized gifted students. They can easily stagnate without assessment tools that capture their abilities, with teaching that caters to the low performers on tests

    Have your say

    • Visit Maine DOE’s ESEA Flexibility Web Page. Stay on top of developments as Maine DOE crafts the state’s request to the federal government for ESEA flexibility. Learn about opportunities to offer your input.
    • Take the Survey. This 10-question survey asks for your thoughts on measuring school and teacher effectiveness, rewarding school success and helping schools improve. Survey closes Dec. 23 at 5 p.m.
    • Join the Discussion. Visit the Maine DOE Newsroom to share your thoughts in an ongoing online discussion about a new accountability and recognition system for the state’s schools.
    • Stay Informed. Receive the weekly Commissioner’s Update from the Department of Education to stay on top of news on ESEA flexibility and other topics in Maine education.

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