Maine DOE recommends, rather than requires, assessment keyboards

The Maine DOE is pleased to announce that mechanical keyboards, while still recommended based on the best interest of some students, will no longer be required for the online administration starting next month of the new Maine Educational Assessment for Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy developed by Smarter Balanced.

While the consortium of 21 states including Maine had decided several years ago that external keyboards would be a requirement, based on feedback from our students and teachers, we requested this issue be revisited.

As most of you know, Maine was the first state to provide students 1:1 computers more than a decade ago through our innovative Maine Learning Technology Initiative and in recent years, tablets have taken over as the device of choice in the majority of our classrooms.  As a result, many of our students feel more comfortable with an iPad in their hands than a pencil, and they and their teachers continued to tell us they felt the required external keyboards were not always necessary. We listened and a recent cognitive lab study at several of our state’s schools confirmed what we had heard.

Yesterday a vote of the consortium’s 18 governing members, called thanks to Maine’s leadership, failed to get the unanimous support required to make external keyboards optional in all SBAC states because a single state dissented.  A needed two-thirds vote to override — which we believe would pass — will not occur for another two weeks. We feel it is unfair for our schools to wait that long for the right decision to be made.

As a result, we decided today to exercise our autonomous state authority and give Maine schools flexibility from this particular SBAC requirement. Specifically, while the Department recommends that keyboards be provided to students who will benefit from them while taking the assessment on tablets including the Apple iPad, the decision will now be one made by educators within schools based on the best interest of their students. Appropriately so, it remains a requirement that schools must continue to provide external keyboards to any student whose Individualized Education Program or 504 plan specifies that support be made available.

We think this is great news for Maine students and schools, and we know you’ll agree. Not only does this learner-centered decision honor local control and where our students are, it also prevents schools from having to invest in additional technology that would sit on the shelf for much of the year. The keyboards you already have on hand either through your own purchasing or MTLI (one for every seven tablets) should be sufficient in meeting the needs of your students.

Like many of you, we are excited about the potential of the new assessment system to help us better understand where students are academically and where they may need more support. As we continue to say, we also know this transition requires a lot of hard work on your part and ours. We hope this announcement in conjunction with the extensive administration resources available on our website and the technical assistance from our team increases your confidence as we enter the final weeks before the test window opens on March 16.

Maine students are better prepared than perhaps any others in the nation for success on this assessment. While there will undoubtedly be minor issues that emerge as is so often the case with the rollout of new systems and technologies, we look forward to working with you to quickly correct them and make the test the best it can be.

If you have any questions about external keyboard recommendations or need assessment technology assistance, please contact Maine DOE consultant Andy Wallace at meatech.doe@maine.gov.