Last week, the Maine Education Association (MEA) announced its reservations about the updated math and ELA standards that were incorporated into the Maine Learning Results back in 2011 and have been being implemented in Maine schools since. They also called for a moratorium on the next generation of assessments aligned to those standards, developed in collaboration with Maine teachers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, of which Maine is currently a governing member.
In the days since, I’ve been asked for my reaction to that organization’s position. Especially in light of the commitment so many of you have made these past three years to supporting local implementation of standards and assessment, I want to make clear where the Maine DOE stands so you have the certainty you deserve.
The Department believes Maine should have rigorous standards that ensure students leave our schools prepared for college and career and that there needs to be a way of objectively assessing where our students are in meeting those standards.
This recent call to revisit the standards is not the first we’ve heard. While it is important to have the high bar for our students firmly set so there is predictability for them and their teachers, the evolving expectations of the 21st century necessitate us regularly revisiting the standards to ensure their rigor and relevance for Maine students.
Since first setting State learning standards back in 1997 when I was on the State Board of Education, Maine has done this four times. We believe the current standards are strong. That said, concerns have been raised both here in Maine and nationally about them and already, they are several years old. As a result, the Department decided last fall we would spend time in 2014 –likely starting in the summer– working with the public, teachers, and leaders from higher education, the business community and the military to consider state-specific improvements to the current standards. Ultimately, any changes to the standards would include multiple opportunities for public comment and require legislative approval.
In the meantime, the Maine DOE will continue to provide resources to Maine schools to support their local implementation, as we have over the last three years. Those resources include technical assistance; professional development sessions (not just through our math and ELA content specialists, but also through our MLTI program, Title I school improvement, and Title III ESL support); and information and links to tools that educators may find helpful on our website and newsroom.
The State assessment given for a few hours each year is one of the many tools educators have to understand where students are and where they may need additional support in meeting these updated standards. It should also be noted that the State assessment is required under federal law for school (not student) accountability.
This spring, 200 schools with a combined 24,000 students are participating in a voluntary Smarter Balanced field test. The better than expected response to the call for participants speaks to the interest among Maine schools in having their students experience the next generation of assessments. It also reflects the commitment of Maine schools to contributing to the development of a fair, accurate and comprehensive assessment system that provides parents and educators the information they need to help all students be college and career ready.
Writing off the assessment system when the field test is just getting underway is unfair to those schools and students. Instead, our Department prefers to focus on learning what you like about the new assessment system, and ways to make it better and we’ll be soliciting feedback through surveys sent to participating schools.
That feedback will inform our work with the vendor the State will contract with this summer to actually administer the Smarter Balanced aligned assessment starting in the spring of 2015. This month, we published a request for proposals to solicit bids for that administrator. While Smarter Balanced is a consortium of states developing a system of assessment including a bank of questions and specifications like those for accessibility, security and technology, every participating state still needs a vendor to actually administer the test.
I want to thank not only those schools and students who are participating in the field test, but also the many teachers across the state who have provided input into the development of tasks, not only for summative and interim assessments, but also for the digital library, which will provide formative assessment tools teachers can utilize on an as needed basis. Feedback from the field is positive, and while there is always anxiety around major changes within education, most educators express enthusiasm about having tools that are consistently aligned to the standards and respective summative measures. They see it as a positive evolution that will not only improve teaching and learning, but reduce costs.
Throughout all this work, we –and hopefully you– remain guided by the Education Evolving strategic plan you helped us develop to put Maine learners first. Effective, learner-centered instruction is at the center of that plan, and is dependent on rigorous standards and assessment systems that provide timely, accurate data on achievement and growth. With the work we and you are doing on standards and assessment, we can say we are staying true to that plan, and to Maine students.