Planning for success: 2014-15 State assessment

The following Priority Notice was distributed on Tuesday, Oct. 28 regarding Maine’s plans for a successful administration of the 2014-15 State assessment.

Dear Maine Educators, Students and Families,

This October marks the first in recent memory during which Maine students in Grades 3-8 are not taking their State assessment. Instead, next spring students in those grades or in their third year of high school will take the Smarter Balanced aligned assessment that Maine will now use for State and federal accountability purposes.

Though the March 16 through May 29, 2015 window schools have for administering this new Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) for Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy is months away, there is already significant work underway across the state to ensure staff and students are prepared for success. Of great importance to me is that you are regularly receiving the information and support you need for this significant transition from the Department and American Institutes for Research (AIR), the statewide assessment administrator we chose earlier this year.

In the coming weeks, we will be expanding the Assessment section of our Maine DOE website to include a repository of resources related specifically to the MEA for Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy and its implementation. Please bookmark that site, which will be updated as new resources become available, including the webinars we will host starting in November on topics including test administrator training and certification, user roles, the online reporting system and the test information distribution engine. Those online tutorials will be followed by four regional in-person trainings in January that I encourage you to save the date for including in Aroostook County on Jan. 13, Bangor area on Jan. 14, Augusta area on Jan. 15 and Portland area on Jan. 16.

Leading those sessions will be the Department’s new assessment team, comprised of our Department’s first Assessment and Accountability Director, Charlene Tucker (charlene.tucker@maine.gov or 624-6827), and Acting Assessment Coordinator Nancy Godfrey (nancy.godfrey@maine.gov or 624-6775).  I encourage you to reach out to Charlene or Nancy if you have any questions or support needs related to your district’s upcoming administration of the MEA for Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy or any other assessments within our larger Maine Comprehensive Assessment System (MeCAS).

AIR is also in the process of developing a secure Maine portal for assessment administration and the Department will let you know via our weekly Commissioner’s Update when that is live for your use. In the meantime, you can find Smarter Balanced information and tools including practice tests, user guides, technology requirements and much more at www.smarterbalanced.org.

Finally, this spring’s MEA for Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy will be the first statewide assessment administered in an online setting. I continue to receive very positive feedback about Maine’s decision to move to an adaptive computer assessment that adjusts to a student’s ability in real-time. This online assessment will better allow students to demonstrate critical and higher-order thinking skills; more accurately measure where students are; give educators and parents more timely information to inform instruction; and allow for a more efficient, cost-effective administration.

Maine has long been looked to as a national learning technology leader because of our pioneering 1:1 MLTI program and the innovation and knowledge of our school-based technology educators so I am confident our students are well-positioned to be successful in this familiar computer-based environment. That said, I know some schools are concerned about whether their computers and networks will support the administration of the new assessment. In November, we will send out a technology readiness survey to districts so we can better understand those challenges and see what resources can be made available through the State or local collaborations to overcome them. Our goal is to provide the necessary supports to enable all students to benefit from the advantages of the computer-adaptive assessment.  However, if there is any school that is ultimately unable to meet the readiness criteria, there will be a paper-pencil option available.

What is measured matters. The State assessment given for a few hours each year is one of the most valuable tools educators and parents have to understand where every student is and where they may need additional support to become college and career ready.  While I know transitioning to an entirely new assessment requires hard work at schools across the state and here in the Department, I am excited about the opportunities the computer-adaptive MEA for Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy offers in providing timely, accurate information on achievement and growth that will improve teaching and learning.

Sincerely,

Jim Rier, Commissioner
Maine Department of Education