BAR HARBOR — “I have tremendous misgivings on a lot of levels.”
That’s what Julie Meltzer, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, said about the state’s new standardized testing system at the school board meeting Tuesday night.
Starting this spring, the Maine Comprehensive Assessment System will replace the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests that students have taken for a number of years. The new tests will be taken by students in grades 3-8 and by high school juniors between March 16 and May 29.
“It’s going to be quite different and stressful for some children.” – Howard Colter
Students will use computers to take the tests in math and English language arts. The science test will be a paper and pencil test.
According to the Maine Department of Education, the new assessment system “provides educators 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.”
“I’m sure it’s well intended,” Superintendent Howard Colter told the school system board. “But this assessment is done over a number of days, and in some cases, weeks, and it’s going to take students away from instruction time with their teachers. And if you add to that the time they’re spending practicing for this exam, that’s even more time lost.”
And because students will use computers for the math and English tests, Colter said, “It’s going to be quite different and stressful for some children, because it’s not the best way for them to show what they know and what they’re able to do.”
Meltzer noted that most third- and fourth-grade students don’t currently write essays on computers, but they will have to learn to do that before taking the English language test.
She said that even if the new assessment system is valid, the state really isn’t ready to implement it.
“So, it’s very likely that some of the systems involved are going to crash or that we’re not going to be able to get data,” Meltzer said. “And I’m not just saying that because I’m a nervous Nellie. Everyone is saying that, including people who recently attended the state roll-out session.
“While it may be a much more interesting test that supposedly captures levels of critical thinking, it’s untested. We’re tying an awful lot of high-stakes decisions to an untested test.
“I can’t say this is definitely the best thing for kids this year,” Meltzer added.
Colter said he, Meltzer and other school system administrators have seriously considered asking the school board for permission to opt out of the new test this year. But the school system’s participation is tied to the roughly $500,000 in federal funds it receives for special education and disadvantaged students. Colter said they decided that’s too much money to give up.
“The feds are telling the states, and the states are telling the districts [they have to do this],” Meltzer said.
Colter said he wonders if the new test is really going to benefit children and encourage more people to choose teaching as a career.
“If it’s really about helping children and teachers, then I’m all for it,” he said. “But I’m a little bit skeptical about how this could be used in ways that aren’t as constructive as I think it could be.”
The new tests were developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium of state education departments.