Test fatally flawed, school officials say

BAR HARBOR — Local school officials aren’t too surprised that the Legislature is on the verge of scrapping the new standardized student testing system that was just introduced this spring.

Julie Meltzer, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, said the new test, called Smarter Balanced, was itself untested and not ready to be implemented.

The Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs voted unanimously May 18 to recommend passage of a bill to end Maine’s participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which developed the test. The bill would require that a new assessment of student achievement be developed “with direct input from teachers, parents and school boards … .”

The bill has not yet been voted on by the full House and Senate.

The Smarter Balanced tests were taken this spring by students in grades 3-8 and by high school juniors across the state. The Maine Department of Education had said the assessment would give teachers and parents “valuable tools to understand where every public school student is and where they may need additional support to become college and career ready by graduation.”

But Meltzer said state education officials botched the rollout.

“It was the process of decision-making that failed at the state level, combined with poor support and communication from the state, the level of unpreparedness of the systems for test-taking … and the poor design of many of these systems,” Meltzer told the Islander.

“The tests themselves may be great examples of how to test for critical thinking and may be a real improvement over previous tests. But they take a lot of time and are very expensive, and we have no idea of the value of the data that comes back months later.”

Meltzer said the schools already have standardized math and reading assessments that provide “both fast and valuable snapshots of how our students are doing … and information about how to adapt instruction to meet students’ needs.”

Mount Desert Elementary School Principal Scott McFarland told the school system board that, having seen some of his student’s Smarter Balanced test results, he thinks the assessment is seriously flawed.

“I’ve seen enough of it, seen enough glitches to know that it’s invalid data,” he said.

Meltzer said local school personnel spent “days and days” preparing for implementation of the Smarter Balanced assessment.

Superintendent Howard Colter said that for the state to pull the plug on Smarter Balanced after just one year is “just stunning,” given the amount of “energy and time and money and training that went into it.”

Meltzer said that everyone involved with the local schools had done their best to get ready for the new assessment and to try to make it work.

“Our teachers stepped up; our technology people stepped up; our administrators stepped up; our families stepped up; and that was really impressive,” she said.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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