Maine high school students show improvements in math, writing and science scores

Performance of third-year high school students increased slightly in math, writing and science, but most students still aren’t achieving grade-level expectations yet are still being allowed to graduate

AUGUSTA – Maine high school juniors improved their scores in math, writing and science on last spring’s statewide standardized tests, but less than half of students are performing at grade level and many will still graduate anyway. 

The percentage of students who achieved proficiency or above in math as measured by the SAT given last May to nearly 13,000 Mainers in grade 11 was 48.5 percent, up from 47.7 percent in 2012-13.

This marks the first time since 2006 when the SAT was first administered as the required State assessment for high school students that math scores have outpaced those for critical reading and was the second highest math result in that nine year period.

After ticking up the previous year to 48.6 percent proficient or above, critical reading scores were down slightly to 47.6 percent, though the percentage of students who exceeded proficiency standards was up to 9.1 percent.

Junior writing proficiency was up to 45.2 percent from 43.3 percent the previous year.

Most significant were the increases in scores in grades 8 and 11 on the Maine Educational Assessment for Science, which was given in the spring to students in grades 5, 8 and 11.

In 2013-14, 43.8 percent of juniors achieved proficiency or above, compared to just 41 percent in 2012-13. Meanwhile, 73.1 percent of eighth-graders were at or above proficiency, compared to 70 percent the previous year. That’s the highest percentage in the history of the grade 8 science exam. Grade 5 scores were down to 62.9 percent proficient or above.

A student is deemed proficient when their work demonstrates grade-level appropriate skill.

“Maine students can be the best in the nation, and I am pleased to see them again moving in that direction by showing improvement in content areas like math and science that are critical to being competitive for 21st century jobs,” said Maine Department of Education Acting Commissioner Rachelle Tome. “We must continue to challenge our students and ensure they have access to great teachers in the schools they choose so that every Maine child has the opportunity they deserve to be successful.”

While the students assessed by last spring’s SAT aren’t scheduled to graduate until the end of this school year, Maine’s graduation rate has been steadily climbing and was last reported at 86.4 percent.  That means about 38 percent of students who are allowed to graduate actually aren’t proficient in math and reading.

That should change in the coming years as a new Maine law requires schools to begin awarding diplomas starting in 2018 based on student demonstration of proficiency not just in math and reading, but in six other content areas.

“Test results are one measure of how a school is serving its students and can be very valuable in assessing where schools and students are strong and where they may need more support,” Tome added. “I urge parents and the public to become familiar with the results from their local schools and to ask hard questions of their superintendents and schools boards about what efforts are underway to improve outcomes and prepare students to graduate with meaningful diplomas.”

Schools already have their 2014 State assessment results to share with their communities, and those as well as aggregate statewide results are also available on the Maine DOE’s transparent public data warehouse at

Beyond data which can be looked at locally to drive improvement, the Maine DOE also offers extensive resources to help schools help students including providing professional development sessions to thousands of educators a year, in-school improvement consultants and web tools including improvement webinars. Additionally, the State will provide $942 million to support education this fiscal year, $106 million more than it did a decade ago, despite a decrease of more than 15,000 students in that time.

Last spring’s administration is the final time Maine will use the SAT as its required assessment for third-year high school students. Starting in the spring of 2015, Maine will move to an adaptive, computer-based test that will provide results in a matter of weeks instead of months so instruction can be improved in real time. All students in grades 3-8 and 11 will take the test, called the Maine Educational Assessment for Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy, during a multi-week testing window from March 16 through May 29.

The Maine DOE will still provide the SAT at no charge to Maine juniors who wish to take it for college placement purposes. The test will be administered on April 15 with April 29 as a make-up date.


One thought on “Maine high school students show improvements in math, writing and science scores

  1. It would certainly be wonderful if every student in Maine could achieve a perfect score on the SAT, but it is unlikely that will happen because the very nature or design of the SAT is to rank students. If a student scores a perfect 800 in one of three subject areas they are among the top .1% of SAT test takers in that year.

    If the SAT is designed as an aptitude test than it only would serve as a predictor of what students could potentially accomplish. The SAT website states “The SAT is designed to assess your readiness for college.” On the other hand if it is designed as an achievement test than it would, as Ms. Warren states serve as a good indicator of what students have already learned. The SAT was never designed to assess the differences between students of different abilities but yet that is how we have used it in Maine.

    The SATs own website states that “55% of students improve their SAT score between their junior and senior year.” The site goes on to state, “If a student achieves a low score as a junior they are more likely to increase their score as a senior.” It only stands to reason that a good percentage of students in Maine would substantially improve their junior year SAT score if they took the test as a senior.

    Ms. Warren makes the following statement, “Maine’s graduation rate has been steadily climbing and was last reported at 86.4 percent. That means about 38 percent of students who are allowed to graduate actually aren’t proficient in math and reading.” She derives this number by subtracting the 47.7% of students who scored proficient on the math section of the SAT from the percentage of students who graduated (86.4 – 47.7 = 38.7). However there are at least two premises that Ms. Warren has overlooked. The “proficient scores are based on SAT scores the students earned as juniors but they still have one more year of school, and as I earlier stated 55% of students improve their SAT scores between their junior and senior year. So clearly a much higher percentage of students are graduating “proficient” but we just aren’t testing them in their senior year to prove it. Second, Ms Warren is making the assumption that none of the 13% of students who failed to graduate were proficient on the SAT. That’s just not the case.

    I think it is also very important to point out that the single best indicator of a student’s SAT score is family income, not future success. In other words, on average the more money the student’s family makes the better the student’s score on the SAT. This is a hard fact for people to swallow but it is very true. This is why schools with lower rates of poverty do better than schools with higher rates of poverty.

    Here is another important detail. There are eight colleges in Maine that routinely accept students with SAT scores far below what the Maine DOE has determined as “proficient”. These colleges include Thomas College, Husson, UMaine Ft Kent, UMaine Machias, Saint Joseph’s College, University of Southern Maine, Maine Maritime Academy, and the Central Maine Medical College of Nursing. For example, 25% of the accepted students at St. Josephs are not “proficient” in reading, math or writing. I know many students who have gone to St. Josephs and are doing great. I know plenty of students who went to Maine Maritime Academy and the rest of these colleges who are doing great. I know many students who had less than ideal SAT scores and they are doing just fine. I am not suggesting that a low SAT score is better than a high one, but I am suggesting that a low SAT score is not the end of the world.

    Like I said it would be great if everyone could get a perfect score on the SAT but the test is not designed that way. There are some people that suggest if you can’t get a “proficient” score on the SAT you should not get a high school diploma. The same thing will happen with the Smarter Balanced Assessment. There is a lot more to earning a high school diploma than an SAT score.

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