Maine Department Of Education Pauses Essay Component of State Assessment to Gain Educator Feedback 

The development of writing skills is essential for student learning, future employment, communication, and critical thinking, and it is a key area of focus for Maine educators and the Maine Department of Education. While writing standards are assessed in the State’s English Language Arts (ELA) assessments, Maine had opted to include an additional essay component at the grade 3-8 span, exceeding federal assessment requirements.  

The eMPowerME essay component, developed in partnership with Cognia (formerly known as Measured Progress), involved field testing, with full implementation in Spring 2018.  Unfortunately, a surprising number of students received a “no score” designation for their essay, raising significant concerns around the quality of the assessment instrument and scoring. We became increasingly concerned when we received word that for the Spring 2019 assessment, the number of “no score” essays dramatically increased.  

The Department was faced with two options:  

  1. Contract with our assessment vendor, Cognia, to provide additional professional development and coaching regarding the construction of writing to meet the criteria of the scoring rubric or;  
  2. Develop a new essay assessment that meets the needs of the students and educators in the State.  

The Department has determined that option 2, developing an essay assessment that meets the needs of students and the State, is in the best interest of our students. Recognizing the high preponderance of non-scorable essays, the Maine DOE has decided to pause the administration of an essay component during the 2019-2020 school year, in order to review factors contributing to these results. The Department of Education plans to refine an essay portion of the assessment, with the assistance of Maine educators.   

As a result, the following next steps will be taken:  

  • The essay component of the ELA eMPowerME assessment will be removed for the 2020 assessment administration.  
  • The essay scores from the 2019 ELA eMPowerME assessment administration will be removed from student total assessment ELA scores. The essay will not contribute to the assessment data used for accountability related purposes.  
  • Essay data, where available, will be accessible to educators through Maine’s Assessment and Accountability Reporting System (MAARS) via the confidential portal and reported to parents on the students Individual Student Report (ISR).  
  • The Department will re-engage educators in the development of a meaningful essay writing assessment, and re-examine writing.  

The work completed by the ELA standards review and writing teams will be instrumental in informing the work moving forward. Over the coming weeks and months, the Department of Education will be reaching out to educators to collaboratively determine next steps.